By DANIEL BATES
Perfect storm: Heavy rains and wind from Hurricane Irene whip the sand on the beach at Pawleys Island, South Carolina, on Friday. The hurricane began lashing the East Coast with rain on Friday
New York is beginning mandatory evacuations for the first time in its history because of Hurricane Irene.
Thousands of people living in low-lying areas across all five boroughs – including Battery Park on the tip of Manhattan – will have to leave their homes by 5pm today and seek shelter elsewhere.
The order – enforced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg – applies to the lowest-lying areas of the city which are expected to be plunged under water.
Scary: An image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Irene from the International Space Station on Wednesday afternoon. The image, captured with a 38mm lens, reveals the eye of the storm
Up we go: Land Crewman Christopher Bird directs as they pull a sail boat out of the water at Martha's Vineyard Shipyard in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, as Hurricane Irene moves up the US East Coast
Out of stock: A shopper passes empty shelves while looking for bottled water at a supermarket in Long Beach on Long Island, New York, as cities along the East Coast were on high alert
Mr Bloomberg said emergency services could not guarantee they would be able to help people in those areas.
He said yesterday: ‘There are risks that endanger public safety and, I can’t stress it enough, nature is a force more powerful than any of us and it really is better to be safe than sorry.
Concerns: President Obama said that Hurricane Irene threatens to be 'historic', as he spoke from his vacation home on Blue Heron Farm in Chilmark, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
‘We can’t depend on Mother Nature being kind. This is very serious. Do not be fooled by the sun, that is the calm before the storm.
Under a nightmare scenario, most of downtown Manhattan – including Wall Street and the site of the World Trade Center – could be submerged by 7ft of flooding and 110mph winds, experts warned.
Stocking up: People shop at a grocery store in Coney Island before the arrival of Hurricane Irene this weekend
The city’s subway system, the largest of its kind in the world, as well as commuter rail lines, will be shut down because trains might be blown off their tracks.
As New York supermarket shelves were cleared by worried residents, experts said up to one million people could lose electricity, the three tunnels linking Manhattan to its outer boroughs could flood and JFK airport could end up under 20ft of water.
Seven states on the East Coast have already declared an emergency, and President Barack Obama last night cut short his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington.
‘All indications point to this being a historic hurricane,’ he said last night. ‘I cannot stress this highly enough. If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don’t wait. Don’t delay.’
Protection: Barry Tischler and his wife Susan Tischler move some plywood sheets to board up store fronts on Washington Mall in Cape May, New Jersey, on Friday in preparation for Hurricane Irene
Get lost: A sign saying 'Go Away Irene!' is spray painted on a boarded up storefront in preparation for Hurricane Irene on Friday in Cape May, New Jersey
Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center’s retired director, said: ‘This is going to be a real challenge ... there is going to be millions of people affected.’
The predictions of flooding come from simulations done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, it is not an exact science to predict the path – and strength – of a hurricane, and there is an equal chance of the city being hit by only the fringes of the storm.
Experts spelled out fears of grounded transport, floods in the city and smashed skyscraper windows - as President Barack Obama warned the U.S. is about to experience 'a historic hurricane'.
Getaway: Sport utility vehicles pulling pleasure boats drive in lines of traffic headed north on the Garden State Parkway on Friday, near Ocean City, New Jersey, as much of the Jersey shore evacuates
High risk: Graphic shows that the entire East Coast is at set to take a battering from the hurricane