Hurricane Irene leaves flooding and destruction it its wake as nine die and millions without power while storm churns up East Coast

Saturday, August 27, 2011

-Five deaths reported in North Carolina and three in Virginia, including an 11-year-old child

-Surfer dies in Florida after trying to take advantage of high waves

-Residents told to stay indoors as flooding hits North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland

-More than two million people without power as Hurricane Irene pummels North Carolina and Virginia

-Conditions ripe for tornadoes in New York City, warns National Weather Service, as twisters reported touching down in Delaware and Maryland

-Experts say biggest danger are storm surges of up to 11ft that could hit New York City

-Entire public transport system as well as five main New York City airports on lockdown

-Downgraded to category 1 storm as hurricane made landfall near Cape Lookout

-President declares federal emergency for New York state and warns U.S. is experiencing 'historic hurricane'

-New York governor Andrew Cuomo sends 1,900 National Guard soldiers to New York City

By Daily Mail Reporter

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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.

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 are ripe for tornadoes in the city, Long Island and southern Connecticut, as twisters were reported touching down in Delaware and Maryland.

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

Storm: Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center rate Irene a category 1 storm with winds in excess of 85 mph (137 kph)

Jarod Wilton looks at the flood waters rising to his doorstep, in Alliance, North Carolina

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.

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.'

Five deaths have been reported in North Carolina and three in Virginia. One man died in Florida.

The first was a man in Onslow County, North Carolina, who 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.

In Pitt County, an individual was killed in a vehicle crash. Details on that death were not immediately available.

Sheriff Dick Jenkins told that the man, who was not identified, went to feed his animals outside his Nashville, North Carolina home, when a tree or branch fell on him.

And in Newport News, Virginia, an 11-year-old boy who had gone missing from his family's apartment was found dead after a tree fell on him, WAVY reported.

Destruction: The hurricane force winds of Irene rip the siding off of homes on Nags Head, North Carolina

Heeling: One of two people rescued from a sailboat, right, uses a line to make their way onto the beach on Willoughby Spit in Norfolk today

Sprawling: Hurricane Irene opened its assault on the Eastern Seaboard on Saturday by lashing the North Carolina coast with wind as strong as 115 mph and pounding shoreline homes with waves

Tragedy: A young boy was killed after a large tree fell onto his apartment in Newport News, Virginia. He was pronounced dead at the scene

Maze of destruction: A vehicle avoids a downed utility pole on Woodlawn St as Hurricane Irene hits Greenville, North Carolina today

In Florida, a surfer was killed when he was knocked off his board at New Smyrna Beach, where surfers had flocked to take advantage of 10-foot waves.

'It appears he went over a wave and might have gone head first into the ground,' Tammy Marris, a spokeswoman for the Volusia County Beach Patrol, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Two additional people died in car accidents in North Carolina on Saturday night as a result of the hurricane. Another man died in Chesterfield County, Virginia, after a tree fell on his home.

Tornadoes were reported touching down in Delaware and Maryland. In Lewes, Delaware, governor Jack Markell said at least 17 homes had been damaged by a twister.

The National Weather Service reported a tornado touching down in Nassau Station, Delaware, and Maryland State Police said there was an apparent tornado on the lower Eastern Shore of the state.

Damaging winds and torrential rain have led to an unprecedented lockdown as the storm roars its way northwards toward New York, where it is expected to hit on Sunday morning, according to the National Hurricane Centre.

New York City became like a ghost town as three hundred seventy thousand people were ordered to evacuate their homes and businesses as experts warned Irene could wreak havoc when it hits the Big Apple because of storm surges pushing seawater ashore and heavy rainfall causing flooding.

The nation's largest subway system and arriving flights at the five main New York City-area airports were halted at noon on Saturday as Hurricane Irene spun its way up the Eastern Seaboard, threatening 20 per cent of the U.S. population.

On Saturday night, mayor Michael Bloomberg said: 'The time for evacuation is over. Everyone should go inside and stay inside.'

President Obama visited the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency today to check on preparations and response activity.

Full force winds: A row of beachfront houses, some condemned before the arrival of Hurricane Irene, get lashed by wind, rain, and the rising Atlantic Ocean

Danger: Homes that sit on the sand of North Carolina's beaches are in danger of collapse as strong waves from Hurricane Irene strike the coast

Under water: Waves lap at the foundation of a house along Calico Creek today in Morehead City, North Carolina

Rising: High water floods the waterfront of the downtown area as Hurricane Irene comes ashore near Morehead City, North Carolina

Running from the storm: A pedestrian crosses an open area as Hurricane Irene passes through Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina this morning

Destruction: Wayne Lanier, proprietor of the Atlantic Food Mart, carries ice into his store next to a gas canopy that was knocked over from the winds by Hurricane Irene in Surf City, North Carolina today

Mr Obama arrived at FEMA's National Response Coordination Center, where federal agencies convene during disasters. He toured the facility and participated in a video teleconference with state and federal officials. He also listened as reports came in from as far as Vermont, where rivers are expected to flood and Canadian utility crews have been called in to help.

'You guys are doing a great job,' the president told more employees working to coordinate federal, state and local emergency responders. 'This is obviously going to be touch and go.... It's going to be a long 72 hours,' Mr Obama said.

The President had been due to leave Martha's Vineyard today after a nine-day vacation, but he cut it short and returned to the White House last night to get ahead of the storm. He brought first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, with him.

His visit followed a conference call he convened from the White House with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to review federal emergency response and recovery plans.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today: 'If you receive a warning to evacuate, please do so. Please stay inside, hunker down until the storm passes. We anticipate rain potential flooding and significant power outages.'

New York governor Andrew Cuomo doubled the number of National Guard soldiers deployed to New York City to 1,900.

The troops, who have been mobilised from across the state, will assist with traffic control on bridges and tunnels, sandbagging operations at the World Trade Center site, evacuation shelter operations in New York, the construction of barriers for railway yards and train tunnels, and other hurricane emergency efforts.

The hurricane reportedly spawned several tornadoes in North Carolina and a tornado watch was issued in Virginia as is ripped through the coastline. The massive storm is expected to strike New Jersey resort towns on Sunday morning before moving up to New York.

But while the Big Apple has shut down its public transportation system, Washington, D.C. officials are planning for the metro transit to operate as normal, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials said.

Spokesman Steve Taudenkidel said the only change they made to D.C.’s metro rail system was a revision of the schedule for Sunday, when it will open at its previously-scheduled 7am, rather than the earlier time of 5am due to the postponement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication.

The decision to shut down the New York City transit system, however, has faced millions of carless residents from the Bronx's most distant reaches down through Manhattan and out to the beaches of Brooklyn and Queens with the question of where to go and how to get there.

Bridges and tunnels also could be closed as the storm approaches, possibly clogging traffic in an already congested city. Taxis in New York City were to switch from metered fares to zone fares, meaning riders would be charged by which part of the city they were being driven to, rather than how far they were being taken.

But by Saturday morning, many New Yorkers appeared to have heeded the warnings about the approaching storm. Bridges and streets were nearly empty, with few people walking or driving. With the shutdown deadline looming, most subway cars on a train on the number 1 line that runs the length of Manhattan's West Side were empty already in the early morning.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged those who needed to leave to do so right away on Saturday morning. The city doesn't have enough resources to evacuate everyone after the weather worsens, he said about two-and-a-half hours before the transit system was to shut down.

'Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish, and it's against the law, and we urge everyone in the evacuation zones not to wait until gale-force winds,' he said in a news conference from Coney Island as rain began to fall. 'The time to leave is right now.'

Transit fares and tolls were waived in evacuated areas. Officials hoped most residents would stay with family and friends, and for the rest the city opened nearly 100 shelters with a capacity of 71,000 people.

Despite reports to the contrary, Bloomberg insists no one has been turned away from a shelter. About 14,000 residents were in emergency shelters at press time.

Officials are strongly urging citizens to evacuate now. Taxis are mandated to take New Yorkers from flood zones to safer areas.

On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates nearest the East River, which is expected to surge as the hurricane nears New York.

The five main New York City-area airports were scheduled to close at noon Saturday for arriving domestic and international flights. Three of them, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, are among the nation's busiest.

At Kennedy airport Friday night, travellers rushed to make some of the last flights leaving before the hurricane was expected to hit. Some terminal entrances were already closed ahead of Saturday's shutdown. Passengers waiting in line for security checks were led between terminals on ramps closed to vehicles as security agents tried to get the passengers through on time.

US Airlines alone has cancelled at least 6,100 flights through Monday, grounding hundreds of thousands of passengers as the storm could strike major airports from Washington to Boston.

Briefing: President Barack Obama (2nd R) listens as FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate (R) updates representatives from various U.S. safety agencies, including U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (3rdR) on Hurricane Irene

Urgency: Charlene Tyler picks up sandbags in a cart during a sandbag distribution to Washington, DC residents

Helping hand: Workers load sandbags into vehicles during a sandbag distribution to Washington, DC residents in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irene near R.F.K. Stadium today

'Leave now': Residents of the Wavecrest Home for Adults wait to board buses to be evacuated from the Far Rockaway section of New York City today in anticipation of Hurricane Irene

Shut down: A New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority employee tells people that there will be no more subway out of Coney Island, an area under mandatory evacuation ahead of Hurricane Irene, in New York today

Taking cover: Charles Foster of Long Neck, Delaware, relaxes with a book as he joins over 275 other people who checked into the Red Cross center at Indian River High School to ride out Hurricane Irene in Dagsboro

Irene made landfall as a category 1 storm near Cape Lookout, North Carolina on Friday night, and began to roll up the Interstate 95 corridor reaching New York on Sunday. A hurricane warning was issued for the city Friday afternoon, the first time that's happened since Gloria in 1985.

If the storm stays on its current path, skyscraper windows could shatter, tree limbs would fall and debris would be tossed around. Streets in the southern tip of the city could be under a few feet of water, and police readied rescue boats but said they wouldn't go out if conditions were poor.

Bloomberg said he was confident people would get out of the storm's way.

'We do not have the manpower to go door-to-door and drag people out of their homes,' he said. 'Nobody's going to get fined. Nobody's going to go to jail. But if you don't follow this, people might die.'

Nevertheless, he said that for those who don't heed the warnings, police officers would use loudspeakers on patrol vehicles to spread the word about the evacuation.

Several New York landmarks were under the evacuation order, including the Battery Park City area, where tourists catch ferries to the Statue of Liberty. Construction was stopping throughout the city, and workers at the World Trade Center site were dismantling a crane and securing equipment. Bloomberg said there would be no effect on the September 11 memorial opening the day after the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Landfall: Shortly after the Category 1 storm made landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, forecasters said Irene's winds had dropped to 85mph

Satellite: This NOAA image taken today at 7:45 AM EDT shows category 1 Hurricane Irene has made landfall over eastern North Carolina

But sporting events, concerts and even Broadway were going dark.

New flood gates were put in place outside Citi Field as a precaution, but Major League Baseball took no chances. The Braves-Mets games Saturday and Sunday were postponed, to be made up as a doubleheader on September 8.

All Broadway musicals and plays were cancelled for Saturday and Sunday, as well as Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil at Radio City Music Hall and Lincoln Center Theater's War Horse. It's the first time Broadway has shut down for an emergency since the blackout in 2003.

Bloomberg weathered criticism after a December 26 storm dumped nearly two feet of snow that seemed to catch officials by surprise. Subway trains, buses and ambulances got stuck in the snow, some for hours, and streets were impassable for days. Bloomberg ultimately called it an 'inadequate and unacceptable' response.

This time officials weren't taking any chances. Transit officials said they can't run once sustained winds reach 39mph, and they need eight hours to move trains and equipment to safety.

The subway system won't reopen until at least Monday, after pumps remove water from flooded stations. Even on a dry day, about 200 pump rooms remove 13 million to 15 million gallons of water that seep into the tunnels deep underground.

About 1.6million people live in Manhattan, and about 6.8 million live in the city's other four boroughs.

For those with cars, parking was available at the city's evacuation centres. From there, each family will be assigned to a shelter and taken there by bus.

In the Queens community of the Rockaways, more than 111,000 people live on a barrier peninsula connected to the city by two bridges and to Long Island to the west.

Everyone there was ordered to evacuate, which brought the total in the city to 370,000, city officials said.

The city's public transit system carries about 5million passengers on an average weekday, and the entire system has never before been halted because of a natural disaster. It was seriously hobbled by an August 2007 rainstorm that disabled or delayed every one of the city's subway lines. And it was shut down after the 9/11 attacks and during a 2005 strike.

In the past 200 years, New York has seen only a few significant hurricanes. In September 1821, a hurricane raised tides by 13 feet in an hour and flooded the southernmost tip of Manhattan in an area that now includes Wall Street and the World Trade Center memorial. In 1938, a storm dubbed the Long Island Express came ashore about 75 miles east of the city on neighbouring Long Island and then hit New England, killing 700 people and leaving 63,000 homeless.

And in 1944, Midtown was flooded, where Times Square, Broadway theatres and the Empire State Building are located.

More than 2million people across the Eastern Seaboard have been told to move to safer places, with hurricane warnings from North Carolina in the South all the way to Massachusetts in the North.

Gasoline supplies are ample, although there were reports of several stations running dry. Analysts do not expect prices for power and gas to rise.

Hundreds of thousands of travellers will have vacation plans changed by Hurricane Irene. If weather forecasters are right, the storm could strike major airports from Washington to Boston, buffeting them with heavy rain and dangerous winds.

Obama drama: President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle and their daughters Sasha and Malia (left) arrive home at the White House last night after cutting their holiday short.

Gone baby gone: Paramedics and EMTs load an incubator holding a baby into an ambulance on Friday after NYU Langone Medical Center was ordered to evacuate about 400 patients

Emergency: A fleet of private ambulances prepare to move patients from Coney Island Hospital as low-lying evacuations take place.

Getting out of Dodge: Ralph Lauren, left, and Steven Spielberg, right, were both pictured on Friday boarding helicopters out of New York City

President Obama yesterday declared an emergency for New York state, which means the state can receive federal aid to supplement state and local emergency and clean-up assistance.

Sustained wind strength within the storm is 85mph, with the hurricane still expected to cause storm surges of up to five feet even if the wind speed drops to around 80mph over the weekend. That could cause flooding in Downtown Manhattan and the at-risk areas ordered to be evacuated by Governor Cuomuo.

The windows and doors of Broadway stores are being boarded up, with sandbags lining some entrances, as owners attempt to limit damage caused by storm surges which could be as high as 11 feet.

Residents were yesterday stocking up on equipment such as flashlights, batteries and bottled water in case the power outages that are predicted to affect millions materialise.

'The basic issue is, first, New York City has world-class emergency planners. But the city is out of practice when it comes to hurricanes,' homeland security expert Stephen Flynn, and author of 'The Edge of Disaster, told CNN.

'This isn't a mammoth storm in terms of lots of death and destruction, but what it is going to do is be very disruptive, and people have to be in position to camp out in their house.'

This massive, slow-moving hurricane is forecast to soak an already drenched Northeast and may come ashore at a time when tides are unusually high, making storm surge even worse – 4 to 11 feet with waves on top, forecasters say.

'Water is the No. 1 killer,' retired National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said on Friday. 'That's going to cause the greatest loss of life.'

MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel said the flooding from Irene could be worse than the 1938 New England hurricane that killed 564 people.

'I think everybody is confident, unfortunately, that this is going to be a bad event from freshwater flooding,' he said.

Forecasters predict Irene will dump six to 10 inches of rain in a swath from North Carolina to New England with some areas getting as much as 15 inches of rain. That's partly because the storm is unusually large and is moving fairly slowly - around 15 mph - allowing it to dump more rain over large areas.

Barriers: Pedestrians walk past sandbags laid down at downtown Manhattan, which will be used to control possible floods

Full defence: Sandbags are used to surround a basement entrance as New Yorkers brace themselves for Irene.

A pedestrian passes next to sandbags used to control possible floods at downtown Manhattan

The predictions gave credence to fear that millions of East Coast residents are in danger of losing electricity, some for days. Utility officials said that power outages would come as strong winds and heavy rains threaten utility wires and poles.

Progress Energy, North Carolina's utility service, said at least 200,000 customers were without power as Irene pummelled the region.

President Barack Obama addressed the nation yesterday, urging Americans to 'take the storm seriously' and warning it is set to be 'a historic hurricane'.

'You need to listen to your state and local officials,' he said. 'If you're in the way of this hurricane you should be preparing now. If you're instructed to evacuate please do so.'

He said disaster response agencies have millions of litres of water, millions of meals and tens of thousands of cots and blankets - and the Red Cross has begun preparing shelters in North Carolina.

'The more you can do to be prepared now, the quicker we can focus our resources after the storm on those who need them the most,' Mr Obama added.

'One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast Coast,' said Max Mayfield, ex-chief of the National Hurricane Center. 'This is going to have an impact on the United States economy.'

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source: dailymail

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