By JOHN STEVENS and JENNIFER MADISON
Flooding: Two men use a boat to explore a street flooded by Hurricane Irene in Monteo, North Carolina
The destructive power of Hurricane Irene was revealed tonight as at least nine people, including two children, were dead as the storm lashed North Carolina and Virginia as it charged up the East Coast toward New York.
More than two million people from South Carolina to Maryland were without power as the giant 580-mile-wide storm brought widespread flooding and high winds that knocked down power lines.
Washed away: The Albemarle Sound floods vehicles outside a Dairy Queen shortly after Hurricane Irene barreled through the Outer Banks in Nags Head, North Carolina
Irene's strength was downgraded to a category 1 hurricane, but as it approached New York, forcasters warned it would hit the city at or near hurricane strength.
The National Weather Service said conditions were ripe for tornadoes in the c
ity, Long Island and southern Connecticut, as twisters were reported touching down in Delaware and Maryland.
Storm: Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center rate Irene a category 1 storm with winds in excess of 85 mph (137 kph)
Around two million people were without power in Virginia as Irene battered the region, reported state governor Bob McDonnell.
Progress Energy, North and South Carolina's utility service, said about 250,000 customers had lost electricity there.
Widespread flooding was caused by Irene pushing a giant storm surge, a wall of water, out of its way as it marched up the Atlantic Coast.
In many places, forecasters warned, the storm surge could be as destructive as the hurricane itself, flooding low-lying areas before the storm even arrives with its winds and pelting rain.
Jarod Wilton looks at the flood waters rising to his doorstep, in Alliance, North Carolina
Daniel Brown, the warning coordination meteorologist for NOAA's National Hurricane Centre, said: 'Storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 4 to 8 feet above ground level within the hurricane warning area from the North Carolina/Virginia border northward to Cape Cod.'
He added: 'Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large, destructive, and life-threatening waves.'
Destruction: The hurricane force winds of Irene rip the siding off of homes on Nags Head, North Carolina
The deaths blamed on Irene included two children, an 11-year-old boy in Virginia killed when a tree crashed through his roof and a North Carolina child who died in a crash at an intersection where traffic lights were out.
A man in Onslow County, North Carolina suffered a heart attack and died while boarding up his windows, according to the Charlotte Observer. A man in Nash County was killed outside his house after he was struck by a tree limb picked up by the strong winds.
Destructive path: This chart shows the forecast for the hurricane's charge up the East Coast
Warning: Despite the hurricane being downgraded to a Category 1 storm, it is still expected to have locally extreme impacts