“All the major metropolitan areas along the northeast are going to be impacted,” National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read told Reuters Insider. “Being a large hurricane, tropical storm-force winds will extend far inland.”
Tens of thousands fled North Carolina beach towns, farmers pulled up their crops, and the Navy ordered ships to sea so they could endure the punishing wind and waves in open water.
After hitting North Carolina, Irene is expected to weaken to a still-dangerous Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of up to 110 mph.
Irene, a major Category 3 hurricane, lashed the low-lying Bahamas on Thursday and was expected to hit North Carolina on Saturday before heading up the coast to New York and beyond.
Projections suggested that Irene would become the first hurricane to directly strike the US mainland since 2008, when Ike killed more than 50 people and caused about $30 billion (£18 billion) in damage.
The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut declared states of emergency, and in one county in South Jersey, a mandatory evacuation was ordered.
“I urge New Yorkers to personally prepare for hurricane conditions and to cooperate with emergency officials if needed,” said governor Andrew Cuomo. “By working together, we will all be able to face this storm in a calm and organised manner.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered nursing homes and five hospitals in low-lying areas evacuated beginning today and said he would order 270,000 other people moved by Saturday if the storm stays on its current path.
“We hope for the best but we prepare for the worst and that’s why I think this city is ready for this weekend,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters while outlining the city’s hurricane preparations on Thursday.
If the storm strikes New York, it will probably be a Category 1 or 2, depending on its exact track, hurricane specialist John Cangialosi said.
Bloomberg said it was too early to determine whether or not Irene would hit NYC but emergency officials are preparing for heavy rains and winds of 60 mph or more.
According to the Mayor, a command center at the Office of Emergency Management had been activated and all of NYC’s emergency response agencies had additional staff on hand.
Bloomberg stated that officials are prepared to order mandatory evacuations but “only in the worst of circumstances.”
High water in the harbor and rivers, along with a high tide at the end of the month because of the new moon, could cause serious flooding. New York’s three airports are near the water, putting them at risk, too, Cutter said.
Hurricanes are rare in the Northeast because the region’s cooler seas tend to weaken storms as they approach, and they have to take a narrow track to strike New York without first hitting other parts of the coast and weakening there.
“One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast Coast,” Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center’s retired director, told The Associated Press.
He said the damage will probably climb into billions of dollars: “This is going to have an impact on the United States economy.” New York is especially susceptible with its large subway network and the waterways around the city, Mayfield said.
Irene was massive, with tropical-force winds extending almost twice as far as normal, about the same size as Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005. “It’s not going to be a Katrina, but it’s serious,” said MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel. “People have to take it seriously.”
In Washington, where residents were rattled by a rare earthquake Tuesday, officials warned people to be prepared for stormy conditions regardless of Irene’s exact path and to stay away from the beaches in the region.
Irene forced the postponement of Sunday’s dedication ceremony for the new memorial honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr in Washington. Tens of thousands of people, including Obama, had been expected to attend.
The Philadelphia area could get more than a half-foot of rain, accompanied by sustained winds up to 50 mph. Mayor Michael Nutter said it could be the worst storm in at least 50 years. August has already been one of the rainiest months in city history.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked all visitors to the shore to get out by midday Friday. He said Irene was poised to be a “serious, significant event,” with flooding a threat across the entire state. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for Cape May County. [via The Telegraph, Huff Post, Reuters, The Christian Post vand LoHud]