Hurricane Irene battered New York with ferocious winds and
driving rain early on Sunday, shutting down the US financial capital and most
populous city, halting mass transit and causing massive power blackouts as it
churned slowly northward along the East Coast.
New York City's normally bustling streets were eerily quiet
after authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents to evacuate low-lying
areas and shut down its subways, airports and buses.
Commuters were left to try to flag down yellow taxis and
livery cabs that patrolled largely deserted streets.
Irene, still a menacing 780km-wide hurricane, was enveloping
major centers in the northeast, threatening dangerous floods and surging tides.
From the Carolinas to Maine, tens of millions of people were
in the path of Irene, which howled ashore in North Carolina at daybreak on
Saturday, dumping torrential rain, felling trees and knocking out power.
"The edge of the hurricane has finally got upon
us," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the more than eight million
people who live in New York as he warned that tropical storm-force winds would
hit the city.
Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, was
sparsely populated, mostly with visitors, as Irene rolled into the city with
"We just came to see how few people are in Times Square
and then we're going back," said Cheryl Gibson, who was vacationing in the
city and had planned to go to the other side of the Hudson River on Sunday.
"We can't get to New Jersey and I'm not sure it's any better there,"
Bloomberg warned New Yorkers Irene was a life-threatening
storm and urged them to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the
risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines. "It is dangerous out there,"
he said, but added later:
"New York is the greatest city in the world and we will
weather this storm."
Some 370,000 city residents were ordered to leave their
homes in low-lying areas, many of them in parts of the boroughs of Brooklyn,
Queens and Manhattan.
But many were unwilling to evacuate. Nicholas Vigliotti, 24,
an auditor who lives in a high-rise building along the Brooklyn waterfront,
said he saw no point. "Even if there was a flood, I live on the fifth
floor," he said.
Flood waters forced officials in Hoboken, just across the
Hudson River from Manhattan, to evacuate a storm shelter, the mayor of Hoboken,
Dawn Zimmer, said on Twitter.
"Hoboken faces worst case scenario. Flooding has begun.
Moving Wallace Shelter residents to state shelter in east Rutherford," the
mayor's tweet said.
The Miami-based US National Hurricane Center forecast a
storm surge of up to 8 feet for Long Island and metropolitan New York. That
could top the flood walls protecting the south end of Manhattan if it comes at
high tide around 8 am.
With winds of 130km per hour, Irene was a Category 1
hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. By 11 pm, the center
of the storm was 70m south southwest of Ocean City, Maryland, and 255m south
southwest of New York City.
As it moved into New York, the hurricane center said it was
expected to remain a hurricane and weaken only after making its second landfall
in New England.
It added that Irene's winds could have a stronger impact on
the higher floors of skyscrapers.
Summer vacationers fled beach towns and resort islands on
Saturday. More than a million people left the New Jersey shore and glitzy
Atlantic City casinos were dark and empty.
This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in US
history, with $35bn in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.
President Barack Obama, who cut his vacation short on the
Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard to return to the White House, was
keeping a close eye on preparations for the hurricane.
After moving across North Carolina with less punch than
expected but still threatening, the hurricane re-emerged over inshore waters on
its route northward, hugging the coast.
At least seven deaths were reported in North Carolina, Virginia
and Florida. Several million people were under evacuation orders on the US East
Irene left several million people without power in North
Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware and widespread blackouts were
reported in New York.
When Irene hit the North Carolina coast at daybreak, winds
howled through the power lines, rain fell in sheets and streets were flooded or
littered with signs and tree branches
Hundreds of thousands of people in Irene's path evacuated
their homes, many taking refuge in official shelters.
"Things can be replaced, but life can't be," said
Robert Hudson, a 64-year-old military retiree, who sought refuge at a shelter
in Milford High School in Delaware.
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said there may be "a
major hit" to tobacco crops, poultry and livestock in her state.
Shoppers stripped supermarkets and hardware stores of food,
water, flashlights, batteries and generators.
Torrential rain hit downtown Washington but expected high
winds had still not reached the city after midnight and restaurants remained open,
some of them almost full.
Irene was the first hurricane to hit the US mainland since
Ike pounded Texas in 2008. Emergency workers were mindful of Hurricane Katrina,
which swamped New Orleans, killed up to 1,800 people and caused $80bn in damage
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