The latest news at 6:50 pst: Two million have been evacuated to escape possible dnger from swiftly-approaching Hurricane Irene so far:
Hurricane Irene caused extraordinary disruption Friday as it zeroed in for a catastrophic run up the Eastern Seaboard. More than 2 million people were ordered to move to safer places, and New York announced plans to shut down its entire network of subways for the first time because of a natural disaster.
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 lost some strength but still packed winds of almost 100 mph, and officials feared it could wreak devastation in a region not used to tropical weather.
“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.”
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 1 million people in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina and 100,000 in Delaware.
Our earlier post with updates:
Irene is now a Category 2 hurricane as it brushes by North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered there and elsewhere up the Atlantic Coast, and New York City — which appears increasingly likely to take a direct hit — is taking extraordinary measure to prepare for the storm.
The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, the two leading commercial forecasting services, continue to assert that Irene will be a Category 2 (sustained winds of 96-110 mph) or Category 3 (111-130mph) hurricane as it bears down on the Mid-Atlantic state. There are some indications that Irene is tracking further to the East and may begin to lose its punch when it comes on shore early on Saturday. Both are good signs, but the threat of destructive storm surges remains.
That is especially problematic for New York City with much of its vital infrastructure below ground. Subways and commuter rail lines to Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey will be shut down at noon on Saturday, no weekend construction work will be permitted, and there are mandatory evacuations on Staten Island and low lying areas of the other four boroughs. The George Washington and five other bridges will be closed if winds reach 60 miles an hour or more.
If Irene does hit New York it will be only the fifth time since 1854 that a hurricane has come so close to the city.
In New Jersey, some Atlantic City casinos made plans to shut down this evening while all lanes of 32 miles of the Garden State Parkway in Ocean County will go in only one direction — westward — beginning this evening.
As noted here, people in Irene’s path should plan for the worst, especially if storm surge predictions hold true for shore communities and cities on major rivers.
I suppose we can be thankful that the Republicans have not managed to gut the National Weather Service and its National Hurricane Center despite their spotty track records. The NWS website is endlessly fascinating and one graphic in particular — an interactive storm surge map — is a must-see if you live in or near potentially affected areas.
UPDATES 6:26 PST:
–The AP: Irene has weakened but is still dangerous:
–ABC: North Carolina empties out:
–New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg orders mandatory evacuation of all New Yorkers in low lying areas (a first for New York):
–Footage of Hurricane Irene 8:15 a.m. in the Bahamas this morning:
–US Prepares for Hurricane Irene:
–ABC: What happens to NYC if Hurricane Irene does hit?
–CNN on what a big hit on NYC would mean:
–CBS News: Remembering the awful hurricane of 1938:
–-Airlines cancel 5,000 flights:
With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast, U.S. air carriers have canceled nearly 5,000 flights this weekend and warned that several major airports in New York and Washington could shut down entirely to guard against the storm’s destructive force.
Because the region is home to the nation’s busiest airspace, the cancellations are expected to cause delays at airports across the country starting Saturday, stranding tens of thousands of travelers, many returning from summer vacations.
Amtrak, meanwhile, said it planned to cancel most train service south of Washington, D.C., through Sunday.
Officials at Los Angeles International Airport said all flights remained on schedule Friday but that routes to and from the East Coast could be delayed or canceled over the weekend as the first major hurricane of the 2011 season slams the Atlantic coastline.
Several airline officials predicted that most of the cancellations will take place Sunday, when the storm is expected to reach high-traffic airports, including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Dulles International Airport near Washington.
“Sunday will be the worst day,” said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines, which plans to cancel 265 flights primarily in Washington, New York, Virginia and North Carolina.
Hurricane Irene, forecast to reach New York this weekend, has the potential to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, a company executive said.
“If we can open here but none of our customers can get to their desks, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to open the exchange,” Louis Pastina, senior vice president for NYSE Euronext (NYX), said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “We’ll have to gauge that in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other stock exchanges and our member firms.”
The company is able to run its electronic platform NYSE Arca even if the hurricane prompts NYSE Euronext to shut the New York Stock Exchange and NYSE Amex, which rely on human traders in Manhattan, Pastina said in a phone interview. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the city’s public transportation system will shut down starting at noon tomorrow.
Irene takes aim at Long Island as residents prepare: