It's here! New York prepares for lockdown as airports and subway shut down and Hurricane Irene makes landfall on the East Coast

Saturday, August 27, 2011

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

-115mph wind gusts batter east coast and North Carolina as Irene wreaks havoc

-Category 1 storm made landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina last night

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

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

-Mayor Bloomberg tells people in evacuation zones to 'get out now' before public transportation shut down at noon

-States of emergency declared in seven states - New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Connecticut and Delaware

By Laurie Whitwell, Mark Duell and Paul Bentley

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

New York City is today bracing for the brutal power of Hurricane Irene after a night of destruction saw parts of the East Coast lashed with ferocious 115mph wind gusts and damage which has led to an unprecedented lockdown as the storm roars its way northwards.

The slow-moving storm battered the coast of North Carolina early Saturday morning, and is projected to hit New York on Sunday morning, according to the National Hurricane Centre.

Although Irene's strength waned last night and was downgraded to a category 1 hurricane, experts warned that it could still wreak havoc when it hits New York because of storm surges pushing seawater ashore and heavy rainfall causing flooding.

Public transport in the city will be completely shut down at midday, with the subway, buses and MTA trains all ceasing operations.

US airlines 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.

NFL officials have also been forced to reschedule the popular New York Giants' pre-season game against the Jets for Monday.

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. It is the first hurricane warning issued for New York City in more than two decades.

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

Out of control: NASA today released a satellite image which shows Hurricane Irene churning along the east coast of the U.S.

On duty: New York Police Department officers prepare to patrol the city for Hurricane Irene's arrival

Last chance: People evacuate apartment buildings in Manhattan's Battery Park this morning as Mayor Bloomberg ordered those in low-lying areas to leave before it's too late

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.

The five main New York City-area airports will be closed to arriving flights beginning at noon on Saturday, aviation officials said. The suspension affects John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro airports. It applies to domestic and international flights.

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'.

President Obama has now 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.

Precautions: Residents fill bags of sand as they prepare for Hurricane Irene in Annapolis, Maryland this morning

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

Tilting: Abandoned beach front houses are surrounded by rising water as the effects of Hurricane Irene are felt in Nags Head, North Carolina early this morning

Abandoned: Beach front houses are surrounded by rising water as the effects of Hurricane Irene are felt in Nags Head, North Carolina early this morning

Battered: A man walks down the board walk as winds from approaching Hurricane Irene start hit the area today in Ocean City, Maryland

Rocky: A man walks along Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills, Outer Banks, North Carolina as waves thrash against it

Violent: Waves slam into shore in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, where the eye of the hurricane is expected to pass later today

Defiant: A few people ignored warnings in Maryland as they walked past boarded up shops

Storm watch: National Hurricane Center meteorologist David Zelinsky watches live weather radar at the center in Miami, that shows the eye of Hurricane Irene coming ashore

Path of destruction: Irene will head towards Canada before crossing the Atlantic

Sustained wind strength within the storm is 100mph, 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.

Major bridges and the state Thruway will close if gusts reach 60mph.

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.

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.

'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.

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

Lashed: A lone Stars and Stripes flaps violently in the wind as sand and sea is whipped against houses in South Carolina.

'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.

'And all of this rain will come in a short period of time, and that could lead to life-threatening flash floods,' National Hurricane Center meteorologist John Cangialosi said Friday.

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.

Closed for business: Shop keeper Emerson Davis of Deal Island, Maryland boards up his store ready for the hurricane.

Evacuating: New York Police Department officers and NYU Langone Medical Center employee Danny Hernandez help an 83-year-old patient after finding her a cab during rush hour after the hosptial was ordered to to discharge or move about 400 patients

Mayor Bloomberg warned New Yorkers there will be an unprecedented mandatory evacuation of 'Zone A' coastal areas and rest of the Rockaways in 'Zone B' (scroll down for map) by 5pm Saturday.

'We've never done a mandatory evacuation before in any part of this city,' he said yesterday. 'The sun is shining but don't be misled - there's a very dangerous storm headed in our direction.'

Around 250,000 people will be evacuated from Zone A areas. The city will be able to shelter around 70,000 people and hopes the rest will stay with family and friends in safer areas.

'We're going to get hit with some wind and high water that is going to be very dangerous. It's heading basically directly towards us.'

Almost 100 emergency facilities will be opened in the city this afternoon and bridges will be closed if there is danger of vehicles falling off them.

Mayor Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to stay indoors from Saturday 9pm to Sunday 9pm so they avoid potential injury from glass, trees or debris.

Transport services may not be restored in time for Monday morning, so many employees of businesses may enjoy a long weekend if they cannot get into work after the weekend.

Chaos: Travellers wait for train announcements at New York's Grand Central Station, as New York ordered residents in low-lying areas to evacuate

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

‘This is very serious - you just can't wait until gale force winds arrive, you have to start your preparations now,' Mayor Bloomberg explained.

'The danger is great - the likelihood of tragedies exists,' he said, warning that if New Yorkers do not follow mandatory evacuation orders, 'people might die'. 'It's a matter of life and death,' he added.

Popular Mechanics magazine has analysed what may happen, and claims 100mph counter-clockwise winds could dump 500 million tons of seawater directly into New York Harbor.

A storm surge could grow up to 15ft high and 2,900 miles of roads in the Brooklyn and Queens regions would be flooded, while the subway would flood in around 40 minutes.

Three tunnels linking Manhattan to New Jersey and New York’s boroughs would also flood, while a million people would lose electricity.

‘We've been very, very lucky because we haven't had that (direct hit),’ Cynthia Rosenzweig, of the NASA Goddard Institute in New York, said. ‘But the potential vulnerability for that is very high.’

Workers would spend weeks pumping water out of transport tunnels and the salt could corrode power lines, transformers and switches on train lines, reported Popular Mechanics.

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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