More than a half-million tourists and residents were ordered to leave the coast of North Carolina, as emergency officials prepared for the arrival of a devastating hurricane.

It was bumper-to-bumper traffic all day Tuesday, after officials in Dare County, North Carolina issued a mandatory evacuation order in advance of Hurricane Bonnie. The winds could hit the coast by early Wednesday.

Bonnie's path was so slow and wobbly on Monday that forecasters weren't sure it would even hit land. But during Tuesday the storm speeded up three times faster than the day before.

Some residents were reluctant to leave, vowing to stay and protect their property.

Hurricane warnings were issued Tuesday morning from Murrells Inlet, S.C., to the North Carolina-Virginia border. A hurricane watch remains farther south to Savannah, Ga.

The state of Virginia and some coastal communities elsewhere banned swimming because of rip tides that are blamed for three drownings over the weekend in South Carolina, North Carolina and Delaware.