Hurricane Irene, the storm that sparked fears of a doomsday scenario playing out in New York City and that led to the evacuation of some 2.5 million New Yorkers from the potentially dangerous hurricane damage areas, has punched into North Carolina — but not as strongly as feared.
But even so: it remains potentially deadly, extremely dangeroius and can still be catastrophic as it snakes its way up the east coast:
Somewhat weakened but still ferocious, Hurricane Irene slammed into the North Carolina coast Saturday morning, drenching the coastline and making an ominous northward march up the Atlantic Seaboard.
Irene made landfall near Cape Lookout with top sustained winds of 85 miles per hour.
Even before the hurricane’s eye made landfall, more than 26,000 people were without power Saturday morning, said Mark Van Sciver of the North Carolina Joint Information Center. Van Sciver said 7,381 people were staying in 81 shelters.
In its northward run, Irene is expected to cause trouble all the way up to Boston this weekend. Parts of New York City, including lower Manhattan, braced for major flooding.
Hurricane Irene downgraded to category 1 North Carolina ready for Hurricane Irene Irene approaching North Carolina Storm chaser: Irene could devastate NY
Irene prompted the cancellation of hundreds of airline flights, the imminent shutdown of the New York subway system and an unprecedented mandatory evacuation in parts of “the city that never sleeps.”
Forecasters expect Irene to bring deadly storm surge, heavy rainfall and misery to millions.
As of 8 a.m. ET Saturday, Hurricane Irene was centered about 5 miles north of Cape Lookout. It was moving north-northeast at 14 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said.
An ocean surge of up to 11 feet is possible in coastal North Carolina, tearing away beaches and probably damaging homes, businesses and other structures before the storm slides up the East Coast to New England, said Bill Read, the Hurricane Center director.
A storm surge also will raise water levels up to 4 to 8 feet above ground level in areas stretching from the North Carolina-Virginia border to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
“The surge will be accompanied by large, destructive and life-threatening waves,” the hurricane center said.
CNN on the Hurricane being downgraded to Category One:
The big question now is whether the storm is likely to continue to weaken (most likely but not guaranteed) or strengthen ending a bad week for the East Coast, which also suffered its first truly pesky earthquake in years.
With winds of 85 miles per hour, Irene had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, but forecasters warned that it remained a large and dangerous storm.
New York City ordered unprecedented evacuations and transit shutdowns as states from the Carolinas to Maine declared emergencies due to Irene, whose nearly 600 mile width guaranteed a stormy weekend for tens of millions of people.
“We’ve never done a mandatory evacuation before and we wouldn’t be doing it now if we didn’t think this storm had the potential to be very serious,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in warning some 300,000 people living in low-lying areas.
Roughly 2.5 million people have been ordered to evacuate up and down the East Coast.
At daybreak on the North Carolina coast, winds howled through the power lines, felling trees, rain fell in sheets and some streets were flooded.
In the port and holiday city of Wilmington, North Carolina, the streets were empty and the air was filled with the sound of pine trees cracking.
And lest you think nothing bad has happened so far:
One unidentified man in the Wilmington area was washed away and feared to have drowned, emergency workers said.
NBC News reported early Saturday that the end of the Atlantic Beach Pier in Atlantic Beach, N.C., collapsed into the water.
Progress Energy, the local electrical utility, projected 125,000 customers throughout coastal North Carolina were without power.
A coastal town official in North Carolina said witnesses believed a tornado spawned by Irene lifted the roof off the warehouse of a car dealership in Belhaven on Friday night and damaged a mobile home, an outbuilding and trees.
Warren Lee, New Hanover County’s director of emergency management, said the county was still evaluating damage in the Wilmington area but that, “We fared pretty well, given the predictions we had.”
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Go HERE for a live storm tracker. And HERE for a Time Magazine gallery of the East Coast battening down the hatches.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.