Hurricane Irene: Heavy rains, wind begin to lash N.C. coast
As New York City prepared for a massive transit shutdown, heavy winds and rain from Hurricane Irene began to lash the North Carolina coast Friday night -- a prelude to what government hurricane experts warned could be a devastating weekend trek northward all the way to New England.
Irene remained a Category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds near 100 mph, though the storm's trajectory slowed from 14 mph to 13 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The core of the 200-mile-wide storm was expected to reach the coast of North Carolina late Friday and early Saturday, moving to the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday night and southern New England on Sunday.
The storm might weaken a bit after reaching North Carolina, but “Irene is forecast to remain a hurricane” at least through Sunday, the center said in an advisory late Friday.
Storm surges of 6 to 11 feet were expected in North Carolina, and 4 to 8 feet from Virginia to Cape Cod, accompanied by “large … destructive … and life-threatening waves,” the advisory said.
And if all of that misery were not enough, the hurricane center warned that there could be scattered tornadoes in eastern North Carolina.
The storm prompted President Obama to cut short his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, but not before he warned the tens of millions of people in Irene’s expected path: “You have to take precautions now. Don’t wait. Don’t delay. We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst.”
Officials in New York were taking no chances, ordering hundreds of thousands of residents in low-lying areas to evacuate, halting all train and subway service and closing the region’s five major airports at noon Saturday.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said there was little that 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.”
Professional sports events in the area were postponed, and in Atlantic City 11 casinos were going dark.
Nine states declared emergencies and called up National Guard troops to assist in rescues and other emergencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency moved industrial generators, medicine, bottled water and other supplies to staging bases in North Carolina, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
In Morehead City, N.C., some locals were hanging tough Friday night, nibbling on Atlantic Blue Crab Bisque at Bistro by the Sea, sipping exotic cocktails and watching the trouble spinning toward them on a muted Weather Channel.
Among the nightly specials: a $6.95 drink called “Drink Hurricane Irene Away,” which seemed as though it was concocted to use up every last spirit behind the bar in the case the place was totaled on Saturday: vodka, gin, run, amaretto, triple sec, grapefruit juice, pineapple juice and grenadine.
Across town, Morehead City Police Chief Wes Lail finished up a conference call with federal weather officials. The upshot: No one could be sure when Irene would hit this coastal hamlet, or how hard.
“She’s been wobblin’ back and forth,” Lail said. “We won’t know till she gets here.”
--Richard Fausset in Morehead City, N.C., Kathleen Hennessey in Washington and Steve Clow in Los Angeles.
Photo: President Obama and his family leave Air Force One on Friday night after returning home from Martha's Vineyard a day early. Credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters