New York orders evacuations as Hurricane Irene closes in

Densely populated US East Coast braces itself after hurricane lashes North Carolina
New York orders evacuations as Hurricane Irene closes in
In this handout GOES satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Irene reaches hurricane strength in the Caribbean Sea. (Getty Images)
By Andrew Sambidge
Sat 27 Aug 2011 12:19 PM

Hurricane Irene
lashed North Carolina with driving wind and rain on Saturday as it
neared land on a path threatening the densely populated US east coast
with flooding and power outages.

New York City ordered
unprecedented evacuations and transit shutdowns as states from the
Carolinas through to Maine declared emergencies due to Irene, whose
nearly 600 mile (960 km) width guaranteed a stormy weekend for tens of
millions of people.

With winds of
90 miles per hour, Irene weakened slightly to a Category 1 hurricane on
the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale by early on Saturday but it remained a
dangerous storm.

"Tonight's the hard night. We're just waiting for it to hit," North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue told CNN.

11am UAE time, the centre of Irene was about 60
miles south of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, the US National Hurricane
Centre said.

"Irene is expected to
remain near the threshold of Category One and Category Two strength,"
the centre said. "Some weakening is expected after Irene reaches the
coast of North Carolina but Irene is forecast to remain a hurricane as
it moves along the mid-Atlantic coast on Sunday."

of thousands of residents and vacationers had evacuated from Irene's
path. Supermarkets and hardware stores were inundated with people
stocking up on food, water, flashlights, batteries, generators and other

"Our number of customers
has tripled in the last day or two as people actually said 'Wow, this
thing is going to happen'," said Jack Gurnon, owner of a hardware store
in Boston's affluent Beacon Hill neighbourhood.

cancelled nearly 7,000 flights over the weekend and all three major New
York area airports were due to close to incoming flights at 7pm UAE time on Saturday.

President Barack
Obama said the unusually large storm could be "extremely dangerous and
costly" for a nation that still recalls the destruction in 2005 from
Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans, killed up to 1,800 people
and caused $80 billion (48 billion pounds) in damage.

the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, caused as much as $1.1
billion in insured losses in the Caribbean this week, catastrophe
modelling company AIR Worldwide said, with more losses expected to come.

Secretary Leon Panetta said the US military stood ready to help in
the response to Irene, with more than 100,000 National Guard forces
available if needed in eastern states.

quarter of a million New Yorkers were ordered to leave homes in
low-lying areas, including the financial district surrounding Wall
Street in Manhattan, as authorities prepared for flooding on Sunday.

A mandatory evacuation was ordered for residents in large areas of nearby Long Island, which juts into the Atlantic.

York's mass transit system, which carries 8.5 million people on
weekdays, was due to start shutting down around midday on Saturday.

never done a mandatory evacuation before and we wouldn't be doing it
now if we didn't think this storm had the potential to be very serious,"
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Irene will be the first hurricane to hit the US mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.

Washington, Irene forced the postponement of Sunday's dedication
ceremony for the new memorial honouring civil rights leader Martin
Luther King Jr. Tens of thousands of people, including Obama, had been
expected to attend.

Flooding from
Irene killed at least one person in Puerto Rico and two in Dominican
Republic. The storm knocked out power in the Bahamian capital, Nassau,
and blocked roads with trees.

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