By MICHAEL BIESECKER and JENNIFER PELTZ, The Associated Press
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (AP) -- Whipping up trouble before ever reaching land, Hurricane Irene zeroed in Friday for a catastrophic run up the Eastern Seaboard. More than 2 million people were told to move to safer places, and New York City ordered the nation's biggest subway system shut down for the first time because of a natural disaster.
As the storm's outermost bands of wind and rain began to lash the Outer Banks of North Carolina, authorities in points farther north begged people to get out of harm's way. The hurricane was still packing 100 mph winds late Friday, and officials in the Northeast, not used to tropical weather, feared it could wreak devastation.
"Don't wait. Don't delay," said President Barack Obama, who decided to cut short his summer vacation by a day and return to Washington. "I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now."
Senior hurricane specialist Richard Pasch of the National Hurricane Center said there were signs that the hurricane may have weakened slightly, but strong winds continued to extend 90 miles from its center.
The moment Saturday when the eye of the hurricane crosses land "is not as important as just being in that big swath," Pasch said. "And unfortunately, it's a big target."
Hurricane warnings were issued from North Carolina to New York, and watches were posted farther north, on the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard off Massachusetts. Evacuation orders covered at least 2.3 million people, including 1 million in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia and 100,000 in Delaware.
"This is probably the largest number of people that have been threatened by a single hurricane in the United States," said Jay Baker, a geography professor at Florida State University.
New York City ordered more than 300,000 people who live in flood-prone areas to leave, including Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan, Coney Island and the beachfront Rockaways. But it was not clear how many would do it, how they would get out or where they would go. Most New Yorkers don't have a car.
On top of that, the city said it would shut down the subways and buses at noon Saturday, only a few hours after the first rain is expected to fall. The transit system carries about 5 million people on an average weekday, fewer on weekends. It has been shut down several times before, including during a transit workers' strike in 2005 and after the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago, but never for weather.
Late Friday, aviation officials said they would close the five main New York City-area airports to arriving domestic and international flights beginning at noon on Saturday. Many departures also were canceled.
The airports are John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was little authorities could do to force people to leave.
"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 may die."
Shelters were opening Friday afternoon, and the city was placed under its first hurricane warning since 1985.
Transit systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia also announced plans to shut down, and Washington declared a state of emergency. Boisterous New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie demanded people "get the hell off the beach" in Asbury Park and said: "You're done. Do not waste any more time working on your tan."
Hundreds of thousands of airline passengers were grounded for the weekend. JetBlue Airways said it was scrubbing about 880 flights between Saturday and Monday, most to and from hub airports in New York and Boston. Other airlines said they were waiting to be more certain about Irene's path before announcing more cancellations.
Thousands of people were already without power. In Charleston, S.C., several people had to be rescued after a tree fell on their car.
Defying the orders, hardy holdouts in North Carolina put plywood on windows, gathered last-minute supplies and tied down boats. More than half the people who live on two remote islands, Hatteras and Ocracoke, had ignored orders to leave, and as time to change their minds ran short, officials ordered dozens of body bags. The last ferry from Ocracoke left at 4 p.m. Friday.
"I anticipate we're going to have people floating on the streets, and I don't want to leave them lying there," said Richard Marlin, fire chief for one of the seven villages on Hatteras. "The Coast Guard will either be pulling people off their roofs like in Katrina or we'll be scraping them out of their yards."
Officially, Irene was expected to make landfall Saturday near Morehead City, on the southern end of the Outer Banks, the barrier island chain. But long before the eye crossed the coastline, the blustery winds and intermittent rains were already raking the coast. By Friday evening 50 mph winds were measured at Wrightsville Beach, N.C.
Some took to shelters for protection.
Susan Kinchen, her daughter and 5-month-old granddaughter came to West Carteret High School with about 50 others. She said they didn't feel safe in their trailer, and the Louisiana native was reminded of how her old trailer lost its roof to Hurricane Katrina, almost six years ago to the day, on Aug. 29, 2005.
"We live in a trailer with her," said Kinchen, referring to the infant. "I'm not taking any chances."
Hurricane center meteorologist David Zelinsky said earlier Friday that he expected the storm to arrive as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane. Later in the day, other forecasts showed it would strike most of the coast as a Category 1. The scale runs from 1, barely stronger than a tropical storm, to a monstrous 5. On Friday night, Irene was a Category 2.
The hurricane center said Irene could weaken into a tropical storm before reaching New England, but that even below hurricane strength it would be powerful and potentially destructive.
Regardless of how fierce the storm is when it makes landfall, the coast of North Carolina was expected to get winds of more than 100 mph and waves perhaps as high as 11 feet, Zelinsky said.
"This is a really large hurricane and it is dangerous," he said. "Whether it is a Category 2 or 3 at landfall, the effects are still going to be strong. I would encourage people to take it seriously."
Officer Edward Mann was driving down the narrow streets of Nags Head looking for cars in driveways, a telltale sign of people planning to ride out the storm against all advice.
Bucky Domanski, 71, was working in his garage when Mann walked in. He told the officer he planned to stay. Mann handed Domanski a piece of paper with details about the county's evacuation order. It warned that hurricane force winds would flood the roads and there might not be power or water until well after the storm.
"You understand we can't help you during the storm," Mann said.
"I understand," Domanski replied.
Later as heavy rains drenched Nags Head, Domanski had cooked his favorite dinner of veal parmesan and spaghetti for his wife, Joy.
He planned to watch TV, but knows his satellite dish and power could go out any time. He has plenty of flashlights and candles and plans to go to sleep early.
"So far everything is OK. The rain isn't bad. I know it could change. But I just don't think it's going to be as bad as they say. I'm hopeful," he said.
After the Outer Banks, the next target for Irene was the Hampton Roads region of southeast Virginia, a jagged network of inlets and rivers that floods easily. Emergency officials have said the region is more threatened by storm surge, the high waves that accompany a storm, than wind. Gas stations there were low on fuel Friday, and grocery stores scrambled to keep water and bread on the shelves.
In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell ordered an evacuation of coastal areas.
"We could be open tonight for business, but there's a very fine line between doing the right thing and putting our staff at risk," said Alex Heidenberger, whose family owns Mango Mike's restaurant in Bethany Beach. He expects to lose $40,000 to $50,000 in business. "It's not so much we're worried about the storm coming tonight, but we want to give them a chance to get out of town and get their affairs in order."
Officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington said they were speeding the transfer of their last remaining patients to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The transfer had been planned for Sunday.
In Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood, one of the city's oldest waterfront neighborhoods, people filled sandbags and placed them at the entrances to buildings. A few miles away at the Port of Baltimore, vehicles and cranes continued to unload huge cargo ships that were rushing to offload and get away from the storm.
In New York, the Mets postponed games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday with the visiting Atlanta Braves. The Jets and Giants moved their preseason NFL game up to 2 p.m. Saturday from 7 p.m., but then postponed it until Monday.
And in Atlantic City, N.J., all 11 casinos announced plans to shut down Friday, only the third time that has happened in the 33-year history of legalized gambling in that state.
"I like gambling, but you don't play with this," Pearson Callender said as he waited for a Greyhound bus out of town. "People are saying this is an act of God. I just need to get home to be with my family."
Bobby Plough was standing outside his restaurant, the Cypress Creek Grill, in Elizabeth City, N.C., putting sheet metal in front of the picture windows in New that normally offer an unobstructed view of the boat launch.
Plough moved to the harbor town on the Pasquotank River in northeastern North Carolina from Corpus Christi, Texas, 18 years ago. Water has never made it inside his restaurant but he wasn't taking any chances.
"Hurricanes are just a way of life here," he said. "You deal with them and move on."
Jennifer Peltz reported from New York. Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Tim Reynolds in Miami; Bruce Shipkowski in Surf City, N.J.; Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton, N.J.; Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, N.J.; Eric Tucker in Washington; Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C.; Mitch Weiss in Nags Head, N.C.; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Brock Vergakis in Virginia Beach, Va.; Jonathan Fahey in New York; and Seth Borenstein in Washington.
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- The full measure of Hurricane Irene's fury came into focus Monday as the death toll jumped to 38, New England towns battled epic floods and millions faced the dispiriting prospect of several days without electricity.
Southampton Patch posts aerial photos of erosion suffered by Hamptons beaches. The photos can be viewed here.
|@ GOOD : Irene wasn't overhyped: It's already the fourth deadliest storm in the last 30 years. http://t.co/VZvHYc5|
|@ ErnestScheyder : Swimming officially banned at all NYC's beaches after #irene as storm swept a lot of #sewage into waterways. #dogdaysofsummer|
According to Associated Press, 35 deaths have been confirmed in 10 states. Update here.
|@ robmarcianoCNN : Still no power at my folks place in CT. Mom says last night was their first candle light dinner in decades.|
|@ NYCMayorsOffice : Most NYC animal shelters resuming services. Adopt a #ShelterPet from @NYCACC or @Bideawee or by searching @ShelterPets. #IrenePets|
The animation below, taken from 48 hours of images from NASA's GOES-13 satellite between August 27 and August 29, shows Irene passing over New York and New England and entering Canada.NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters
Democracy Now! reports:
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin joins us for an update from Vermont, where nearly every community is surrounded by hills and valleys, with small streams feeding into rivers. Shumlin notes that since he was sworn into office seven months ago, "this is the second major disaster as a result of storms. We had storms this spring that flooded our downtowns and put us through many of the same exercises that we’re going through right now. We didn’t used to get weather patterns like this in Vermont. The point is, we in the colder states are going to see the results of climate change first."
CHESTER, Vt. — Officials say more than a dozen towns in Vermont and at least three in New York are cut off, with roads and bridges washed out by flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene.
Chris Cole of Vermont's Agency of Transportation says Monday that towns in the central and southern part of the state have been isolated by the storm.
In New York, the towns of Keene in the Adirondacks, and Windham and Phoenicia in the Catskills are effectively isolated by damage to roads and bridges.
Expert forecasters misjudged the severity of Irene as it barreled toward the East Coast of the United States late last week. It weakened considerably by the time it hit New York.
Although some have claimed the Mayor, and Governor Cuomo, who ordered the city's subways be shut down Saturday, overreacted to Irene, the resounding general consensus is that the Mayor's 'better safe than sorry' strategy was one that worked for New York.
Reisterstown Patch reports:
More than 450,000 households in Maryland remained without power 35 hours after peak rain and winds from Hurricane Irene hit the state, and the Baltimore area could experience outages until Friday, officials said Monday.
Cranford officials have asked the state of New Jersey and PSE&G to give Cranford "priority status" as residents begin the daunting task of asessing the damage to their homes and cleaning the mess left in Hurrican Irene's wake.
Mayor Dan Aschenbach spent the majority of his time late Sunday and Monday touring the township to assist with cleanup and rescue efforts.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, HuffPost has compiled video footage from the disaster.
In the video below, a car floats down the river in Bennington, Vermont:
Middleton, Connecticut Patch reports that Illiano's Pizzeria remained open on Sunday, and managed to serve hundreds of pizzas, despite the fact that they had lost power.
Read the story here.Video courtesy of Darrell Lucas WATCH:
Follow Hurricane Irene's path along the East Coast with this interactive map.
Ossining-Croton Patch's Christopher Michael McHugh reports on a rafting trip during the storm that ended in disaster.WATCH:
Utility crews scrambled to restore power after Hurricane Irene raked across the Eastern Seaboard. But even with help from thousands of out-of-state repair crews, power companies say it may be days before some people see the lights back on.
|@ nickconfessore : Raw footage of @NYGovCuomo's first aerial survey of #irene damage via @stateofpolitics. More footage later. http://t.co/yxVHleC|
From HuffPost's John Celock:
The Army Corps of Engineers will be touring the Somerset County, NJ communities of Bound Brook and Manville today. Both communities were hit with flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. Both towns have a history of flooding, including during after Hurricane Floyd hit New Jersey in 1999.
We asked, and you responded. Here's a sample of what Huffington Post readers saw during and after Irene.
|@ NYCMayorsOffice : Hundreds of Con Ed crews are on the streets working to restore service to about 38,000 NYC customers currently without #power.|
The New York Times describes the scene in a school gym shelter over the weekend:
The sleepover was an international scene. Guests spoke English, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian and Farsi.
Lying on a cot next to her mother and her aunt, Kimia Shahandeh, 25, studied for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl, and dipped in and out of “Funny in Farsi,” a memoir by an Iranian immigrant to the United States. Azadeh Lassman, Ms. Shahandeh’s aunt, chatted in Farsi with her sister and tore up pieces of paper to make a deck of cards.
NEW YORK -- Wireless networks fell quiet Sunday in some coastal areas of North Carolina and southern Virginia, but calls were going through in most areas affected by Tropical Storm Irene, the Federal Communications Commission said.
In Lenoir, Greene and Carteret counties of North Carolina, 50 percent to 90 percent of cell towers went offline, said Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, head of the public safety bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.
|@ breakingirene : Vermont State Police confirm second death in Wilmington area following devastating flooding - Burlington Free Press http://t.co/xM7Y9AM|
The Brattleboro Reformer provides a video slideshow of images from around Windham County, Vermont.WATCH: