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Hurricane Irene Picks Up Speed As It Re-Emerges Over Atlantic (LIVE UPDATES)

First Posted: 08/27/11 08:53 PM ET Updated: 10/27/11 06:12 AM ET

By MITCH WEISS and SAMANTHA GROSS, Associated Press

MIAMI -- Weaker but still menacing, Hurricane Irene knocked out power and piers in North Carolina, clobbered Virginia with wind and churned up the coast Saturday to confront cities more accustomed to snowstorms than tropical storms. New York City emptied its streets and subways and waited with an eerie quiet.

With most of its transportation machinery shut down, the Eastern Seaboard spent the day nervously watching the storm's march across a swath of the nation inhabited by 65 million people. The hurricane had an enormous wingspan - 500 miles, its outer reaches stretching from the Carolinas to Cape Cod - and packed wind gusts of 115 mph.

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Almost a million homes and businesses were without power. While it was too early to assess the full threat, Irene was blamed for five deaths.

The hurricane stirred up 7-foot waves, and forecasters warned of storm-surge danger on the coasts of Virginia and Delaware, along the Jersey Shore and in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. In the Northeast, drenched by rain this summer, the ground is already saturated, raising the risk of flooding.

Irene made its official landfall just after first light near Cape Lookout, N.C., at the southern end of the Outer Banks, the ribbon of land that bows out into the Atlantic Ocean. Shorefront hotels and houses were lashed with waves. Two piers were destroyed, and at least one hospital was forced to run on generator power.

"Things are banging against the house," Leon Reasor said as he rode out the storm in the town of Buxton. "I hope it doesn't get worse, but I know it will. I just hate hurricanes."

By evening, the storm had weakened to sustained winds of 80 mph, down from 100 mph on Friday. That made it a Category 1, the least threatening on a 1-to-5 scale, and barely stronger than a tropical storm. Its center was positioned almost exactly where North Carolina meets Virginia at the Atlantic, and it was picking up speed, moving at 16 mph - up from 13 mph - as it re-emerged over the Atlantic. A hurricane warning had been lifted south of Surf City, N.C.

After the Outer Banks, the storm strafed Virginia with rain and strong wind. It covered the Hampton Roads region, which is thick with inlets and rivers and floods easily, and chugged north toward Chesapeake Bay. Shaped like a massive inverted comma, the storm had a thick northern flank that covered all of Delaware, almost all of Maryland and the eastern half of Virginia.

The deaths 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.

In addition, a North Carolina man was killed by a flying tree limb, a passenger died when a tree fell on in a car in Virginia, and a surfer in Florida was killed in heavy waves.

It was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Experts guessed that no other hurricane in American history had threatened as many people.

At least 2.3 million were under orders to move to somewhere safer, although it was unclear how many obeyed or, in some cases, how they could.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told 6,500 troops from all branches of the military to get ready to pitch in on relief work, and President Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's command center in Washington and offered moral support.

"It's going to be a long 72 hours," he said, "and obviously a lot of families are going to be affected."

In New York, authorities began the herculean job of bringing the city to a halt. The subway began shutting down at noon, the first time the system was closed because of a natural disaster. It was expected to take as long as eight hours for all the trains to complete their runs and be taken out of service.

On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates near the East River because of fear of flooding. Tarps were placed over other grates. Construction stopped throughout the city, and workers at the site of the World Trade Center dismantled a crane and secured equipment.

While there were plenty of cabs on the street, the city was far quieter than on an average Saturday. In some of the busiest parts of Manhattan, it was possible to cross a major avenue without looking, and the waters of New York Harbor, which might normally be churning from boat traffic, were quiet before the storm.

The biggest utility, Consolidated Edison, considered cutting off power to 6,500 customers in lower Manhattan because it would make the eventual repairs easier. Mayor Michael Bloomberg also warned New Yorkers that elevators in public housing would be shut down, and elevators in some high-rises would quit working so people don't get trapped if the power goes out.

"The time to leave is right now," Bloomberg said at an outdoor news conference at Coney Island, his shirt soaked from rain.

A day earlier, the city ordered evacuations for low-lying areas, including Battery Park City at the southern edge of Manhattan, Coney Island with its famous amusement park and the beachfront Rockaways in Queens.

The five main New York-area airports - La Guardia, John F. Kennedy and Newark, plus two smaller ones - waved in their last arriving flights around noon. The Giants and Jets postponed their preseason NFL game, the Mets postponed two baseball games, and Broadway theaters were dark.

New York has seen only a handful of hurricanes in the past 200 years. The Northeast is much more used to snowstorms - including the blizzard last December, when Bloomberg was criticized for a slow response.

For all the concern, there were early signs that the storm might not be as bad as feared. Some forecasts had it making landfall as a Category 3 storm and perhaps reaching New York as a Category 2.

"Isabel got 10 inches from coming in the house, and this one ain't no Isabel," said Chuck Owen of Poquoson, Va., who has never abandoned his house to heed an evacuation order. He was referring to Hurricane Isabel, which chugged through in 2003.

Still, Owen put his pickup truck on a small pyramid of cinder blocks to protect it from the storm tide, which had already begun surging through the saltwater marshes that stand between Poquoson and Chesapeake Bay.

Airlines said 9,000 flights were canceled, including 3,000 on Saturday. Airlines declined to say how many passengers would be affected, but it could easily be millions because so many flights make connections on the East Coast. There were more than 10,000 cancellations during the blizzard last winter.

American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said it was not clear when flights would resume out of New York.

"The one thing about a hurricane is that you can prepare for it and you just have to adapt your plan based on how the storm travels," she said. "It's basically an educated guessing game."

Greyhound suspended bus service between Richmond, Va., and Boston. Amtrak canceled trains in the Northeast for Sunday.

The power losses covered 900,000 homes and businesses and were heavily concentrated in Virginia and North Carolina. Dominion Resources reported almost 600,000 customers without power and Progress Energy 260,000, with much of the outages in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

Irene roared across the Caribbean earlier this week, offering a devastating preview for the United States: power outages, dangerous floods and high winds that caused millions of dollars in damage.

___

Samantha Gross reported from New York. Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Tim Reynolds and Christine Armario 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.; Jessica Gresko in Ocean City, Md.; Mitch Weiss in Nags Head, N.C.; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Brock Vergakis in Virginia Beach, Va.; Samantha Bomkamp and Jonathan Fahey in New York; and Seth Borenstein in Washington.

AP reports:

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.

Full story here.

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Southampton Patch posts aerial photos of erosion suffered by Hamptons beaches. The photos can be viewed here.

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@ GOOD : Irene wasn't overhyped: It's already the fourth deadliest storm in the last 30 years. http://t.co/VZvHYc5

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@ ErnestScheyder : Swimming officially banned at all NYC's beaches after #irene as storm swept a lot of #sewage into waterways. #dogdaysofsummer

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According to Associated Press, 35 deaths have been confirmed in 10 states. Update here.

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@ robmarcianoCNN : Still no power at my folks place in CT. Mom says last night was their first candle light dinner in decades.

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@ NYCMayorsOffice : Most NYC animal shelters resuming services. Adopt a #ShelterPet from @NYCACC or @Bideawee or by searching @ShelterPets. #IrenePets

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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

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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."

Read the report here.

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The Associated Press reports:

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.

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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.

Read more here.

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Watch Gov. Cuomo's live briefing here.

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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.

More here.

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Princeton Patch reports that Princeton EMT Michael Kenwood died early Sunday after braving Hurricane Irene floods during a water rescue. More here.

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Cranford, New Jersey Patch reports:

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.

Read the full story here.

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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:

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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:

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Follow Hurricane Irene's path along the East Coast with this interactive map.

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Submit your photos to HuffPost's Irene slideshow.

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Ossining-Croton Patch's Christopher Michael McHugh reports on a rafting trip during the storm that ended in disaster.

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From AP:

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.

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@ nickconfessore : Raw footage of @NYGovCuomo's first aerial survey of #irene damage via @stateofpolitics. More footage later. http://t.co/yxVHleC

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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.

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We asked, and you responded. Here's a sample of what Huffington Post readers saw during and after Irene.

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@ NYCMayorsOffice : Hundreds of Con Ed crews are on the streets working to restore service to about 38,000 NYC customers currently without #power.

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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.

Read the full story here.

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The Associated Press reports:

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.

More here.

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@ breakingirene : Vermont State Police confirm second death in Wilmington area following devastating flooding - Burlington Free Press http://t.co/xM7Y9AM

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The Brattleboro Reformer provides a video slideshow of images from around Windham County, Vermont.

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Boston.com/Boston Globe report:

@ BostonUpdate : Irene's 1st fatality in Mass; public works employee in Southbridge electrocuted by downed power line at home http://t.co/ZLYC7BZ #MAIrene

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Filed by Joanna Zelman  |