Archive for August 27th, 2011

August 27, 2011

2.5 million people ordered out as Hurricane Irene nears East Coast



Storm weakens to Category 1 but is still extremely dangerous, forecasters say

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NBC, and news services

updated 8/27/2011 4:44:42 AM ET

Above: Slideshow (60) Hurricane Irene


Top developments:

  • Irene weakens to Category 1 storm early Saturday, but is still dangerous
  • Landfall expected around 9 a.m. ET at near Cape Lookout on N.C.’s Outer Banks
  • 2.5 million under evacuation orders; 550,000 are in NYC, Long Island
  • NYC, N.J., Philadelphia to suspend mass transit service during part of weekend
  • Hard rain falls on North Carolina’s Outer Banks

Hurricane Irene zeroed in on land Saturday, losing some power but still threatening a catastrophic run up the East Coast as more than 2 million people were told to move to safer places to escape the massive storm.

New York City ordered America’s biggest subway system shut down for the first time ever because of a natural disaster. A hurricane warning was issued for the city for the first time in two decades, and more than a quarter-million people in New York were ordered to evacuate.

The warning was in effect Friday from North Carolina in the south all the way to Massachusetts in the north. Officials declared emergencies, called up hundreds of National Guard troops, shut down public transit systems and begged hundreds of thousands of people to obey evacuation orders.

U.S. airlines were canceling at least 6,100 flights through Monday, grounding hundreds of thousands of passengers. The storm could strike major airports from Washington to Boston with heavy rain and dangerous winds.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Saturday Irene had weakened to a Category 1 storm with top sustained winds down to 90 mph from 100 mph overnight, but warned that it would remain a hurricane as it moves up the mid-Atlantic coast, even after losing some more strength once it hits land.

“The hazards are still the same,” NHC hurricane specialist Mike Brennan said. “The emphasis for this storm is on its size and duration, not necessarily how strong the strongest winds are.”

As the storm’s outermost bands of wind and rain began to lash islands off the coast of the southern state of North Carolina, authorities in points farther north begged people to get out of harm’s way.

President Barack Obama, speaking from Martha’s Vineyard Island off the coast of Massachusetts before ending his vacation early, said all indications point to the storm being a historic hurricane.

“Don’t wait. Don’t delay,” said 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 100 miles from its center.

The storm’s center was about 50 miles south of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, as of 4 a.m. ET Saturday as the storm lumbered north-northeastward at 14 mph.

Long before the storm’s eye crossed the coastline, rain and tropical storm-force winds already were pelting North and South Carolina as Irene trudged north, snapping power lines and flooding streets. Officials warned of dangerous rip currents. Wind and rains knocked out power to about 45,000 customers along the coast, including a hospital.

Irene’s wrath in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, gave a preview of what might be coming to the U.S.: Power outages, dangerous floods and high winds that caused millions of dollars in damage.

The U.S. East Coast, home to some of the country’s most densely populated cities and costliest waterfront real estate, was expected to suffer a multibillion-dollar disaster. At least 65 million people are in its projected track.

Landfall was likely to be around 9 a.m. ET Saturday near Cape Lookout on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the National Hurricane Center said, but the storm’s outer bands buffeted South Carolina Friday, flooding streets and downing power lines.

Massive evacuation effort
With more coastal cities ordering evacuations ahead of Hurricane Irene, residents and tourists alike from North Carolina to New York City were moving toward higher ground.

Traffic jams as long as 20 miles were reported and some service stations in New Jersey and other areas ran out of gasoline, according to the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks supplies and prices. Gasoline demand jumped 20 percent to 40 percent in Mid-Atlantic states, the service said.

Evacuation orders covered 1 million people in New Jersey, 550,000 in New York, 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, the nation’s largest city, was among those announcing evacuations Friday.

Video: Bloomberg: ‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’

“We do not have the manpower to go door-to-door and drag people out of their homes,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Nobody’s going to get fined. Nobody’s going to go to jail. But if you don’t follow this, people might die.”

Nearly 100 shelters were set to open, with a capacity of 71,000 people.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said subways, buses and commuter trains in the city, on Long Island and in the northern suburbs will be suspended starting around noon Saturday.

Cuomo added that 1,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen would help over the weekend.

The George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges, among others, were ordered shut if winds top 60 mph, as was the New York State Thruway.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have said they can’t run the transit system once sustained winds reach 39 mph, and they need an eight-hour lead time to shut it down.

Video: Gloria, Donna, Irene: NYC in hurricanes’ paths

Officials have entreated residents to take it upon themselves to get out early, but it remained unclear how many would heed the warnings that subways and buses might not be there for them if they waited.

A hurricane watch was in effect for New York City and Long Island for Sunday, with storm conditions possible Saturday night.

The MTA has never before halted its entire system — which carries about 5 million passengers on an average weekday — in advance of a storm, though the system was seriously hobbled by an August 2007 rainstorm that disabled or delayed every one of the city’s subway lines.


On Thursday, Bloomberg ordered nursing homes and five hospitals in low-lying areas evacuated beginning Friday. At Coney Island Hospital, officials were transferring 241 patients to six hospitals outside the evacuation zone.

Even if the winds aren’t strong enough to damage buildings in a metropolis made largely of brick, concrete and steel, a lot of New York’s subway system and other infrastructure is underground and subject to flooding in the event of an unusually strong storm surge or heavy rains.

Video: How to prepare for Irene

In the low-lying Financial District surrounding Wall Street, the New York Fed was readying contingency plans but expected normal functioning of its open market operations on Monday, a spokesman said.

The city had a brush with a tropical storm, Hanna, in 2008 that dumped 3 inches of rain in Manhattan.

In the last 200 years, New York has seen only a few significant hurricanes. In 1821, a hurricane raised tides by 13 feet in an hour and flooded all of Manhattan south of Canal Street, the southernmost tip of the city. The area now includes Wall Street and the World Trade Center memorial.

South Carolina
Hurricane Irene buffeted the coast of South Carolina on Friday, downing power lines, flooding streets and chewing away the sandy beaches that are the heart of the state’s $14 billion tourism industry.

In the tourist district in Myrtle Beach late Friday, surfers and those who had walked down to the beach to watch the storm roiling the surf scattered. Cars crept along Ocean Boulevard with their lights on in the downpour. A wind gust of 62 mph was reported at Springmaid Pier.

Surf surged at the Caravelle Resort and flooded a nearby beach access.

At Edisto Beach, police reported waves of 10 to 12 feet and water on oceanside roads. At Folly Beach, significant erosion was reported. There was street flooding in Georgetown and standing water on roads up and down the coast.

Readers capture Hurricane Irene’s approach

North Carolina
Forecasters warned wind-whipped water could create a dangerous storm surge, with levels along North Carolina’s Albemarle and Pamlico sounds rising as much as 11 feet.

Traffic was steady as people left the Outer Banks, which started getting heavy rain early Friday evening.

Tourists were ordered to leave the barrier islands Thursday, though local officials estimated Friday that about half the residents on two of the islands have ignored evacuation orders.

As a result, officials ordered dozens of body bags.

“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.”

In Nags Head, police officer Edward Mann cruised the streets in search of cars in driveways — a telltale sign some planned to stay behind. He warned those that authorities wouldn’t be able to help holdouts, and that electricity and water could be out for days.


Some told Mann they’re staying because they feel safe or because the storm won’t be as bad as predicted. Mann, 25, said some have told him they’ve ridden out more storms than years he’s been alive.

Bucky Domanski, 71, was among those who told Mann he wasn’t leaving.

“I could be wrong, but everything meteorologists have predicted never pans out,” Domanski said. “I don’t know, maybe I’ve been lulled to sleep. But my gut tells me it’s not going to be as bad as predicted. I hope I’m right.”

The National Weather Service reported the roof was blown off a Belhaven, N.C., dealership from Irene-spawned tornado.

After the Outer Banks, the next target for Irene is 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.

Few people were left along the coast of Virginia Beach, where officials ordered the mandatory evacuation of the city’s Sandbridge section.

Similar orders were issued for at least 10 other localities and some roads inland had backups 7-8 miles long.

N.Y.-area airports to stop all flights as Irene nears

The beach community of Ocean City was taking no chances, ordering thousands of people to leave.

“This is not a time to get out the camera and sit on the beach and take pictures of the waves,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Washington, D.C.
Irene forced the postponement of Sunday’s planned dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. While a direct strike on the nation’s capital appeared slim, organizers said the forecasts of wind and heavy rain made it too dangerous to summon a throng they initially expected to number up to 250,000 people.

A state of emergency was declared Friday as a way to marshal resources ahead of Irene.

Story: Are you in Irene’s path? Share photos, if it’s safe to do so

New Jersey
Transit trains will stop running at noon Saturday, Gov. Chris Christie said Friday.

Aiming to speed up evacuations, Christie also suspended tolls on all parts of the Garden State Parkway south of the Raritan River and the Atlantic City Expressway.

Summer resort towns were emptying as officials ordered mandatory evacuation of the popular tourist areas along the state’s coastal barrier islands.


Hundreds of thousands of people were likely to be affected by the orders, which included evacuation of such heavily visited towns as Wildwood, Ocean City and Avalon, all in Cape May County where the summer tourist population is typically 750,000 people.

Traffic was jammed for some 20 miles on the Garden State Parkway, said Mike Durkin, who drove home to Jenkintown, Pa., from the Jersey shore.

“I think there is a lot of nervous energy,” he said. “There are people who have been there for 30 years who always rode out the storms before. A neighbor told me he just wasn’t going to take a chance on this one though,” he added.

Video: To Jersey Shore: ‘Get out’ tonight

All 11 of Atlantic City’s casinos were ordered to close by noon Saturday. The city’s casinos have shut down only twice before, in 1985 for Hurricane Gloria and in 2006 because of a state government shutdown.

Mass transit in the city and suburbs will be shut down early Sunday morning, officials said Friday.

The city of Chester, which sits on the Delaware River just south of Philadelphia, ordered residents in flood-prone areas to evacuate by noon on Saturday.


Gov. Daniel Malloy declared a state of emergency and warned there could be prolonged power outages if Irene dumps up to a foot of rain on already saturated ground.

He said emergency responders must be ready in event of any evacuations from heavily developed urban areas. “We are a much more urban state than we were in 1938,” he said, referring to the year that the so-called “Long Island Express” hurricane killed 600 people and caused major damage with 17-foot storm surges and high winds.

While some residents flocked to the supermarket for bottled water and nonperishable food, others rushed to the local hardware store.

“Our number of customers has tripled in the last day or two as people actually said ‘wow, this thing is going to happen,'” said Jack Gurnon, owner of Charles Street Supply, a hardware store in Boston’s wealthy Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Tape for windows, flashlights and batteries were flying off shelves, but Gurnon said people were worried about flooding and have been scooping up sump pumps, too.

Rhode Island
The towns of Narragansett and South Kingstown on Friday announced mandatory evacuations for residents in flood-prone areas for no later than 10 a.m. Sunday.

Slideshow: Cartoonists poke at Irene 

While avoiding a direct hit, the state did see the first U.S. injuries from Irene when eight people were washed off a jetty in West Palm Beach on Thursday by a large wave churned up by the storm. All survived.

The government said the storm earlier knocked out communications to islands such as Eleuthera and Abaco and that only partial reports of damage were so far available.

No reports of deaths or injuries were received, but some 180 homes on Acklins Island were destroyed or damaged.

The capital sustained relatively minor flooding and damage.

Insured losses in the Caribbean from Irene will be between $500 million and $1.1 billion, risk assessor firm Air Worldwide said on Friday, adding that the Bahamas will account for more than 60 percent of the loss.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


August 27, 2011

New York Subways Are Shut Down as Hurricane Irene Nears

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Librado Romero/The New York Times

A view of Manhattan from New Jersey. Andrew Sandine and Sarah Nunnally, from California, said Saturday that they would stay in a shelter until the storm passed. More Photos »


Published: August 27, 2011

New York became a city without one of its trademarks — the nation’s largest subway system — on Saturday as Hurricane Irene charged northward and the city prepared to face powerhouse winds that could drive a wall of water over the beaches in the Rockaways and between the skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan.

The city worked to complete its evacuation of about 370,000 residents in low-lying areas where officials expected flooding to follow the storm, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said that more than a million people had been evacuated, mainly from four counties in the southern part of the state.

Officials warned that a big problem could be flooding at high tide, around 8 a.m. Sunday — before the storm has moved on and the wind has slacked off in and around the city, assuming it more or less follows the path where forecasters expect it to go.

“That is when you’ll see the water come over the side,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg cautioned at a briefing on Saturday afternoon.

But despite the city’s efforts, opening 91 emergency centers that could take in 70,000 people, the mayor said that only 1,400 had arrived by 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The only other statistics available pointed to the difficulty of getting people to abide by the mayor’s mandatory evacuation order in what the city calls Zone A low-lying areas: He said 80 percent of the residents in some city-run buildings — but only 50 percent in others — had left by Saturday afternoon.

As the storm pushed toward the New York area, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered 2,000 National Guard troops called up to help in — and after — the storm. Mr. Cuomo saw the first of them off from the 69th Regiment Armory, on Lexington Avenue at 26th Street, after saying they would assist the police, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He also said that some would be sent to Long Island, which could face heavy damage in the storm.

Mr. Christie said 1,500 National Guard troops had been deployed in New Jersey.

The mayor attributed one casualty to the storm, a 66-year-old man who fell from a ladder while trying to board up windows at his house in Jamaica, Queens. A Fire Department spokesman said the man, who was not immediately identified, was in serious condition at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.

As the transit system prepared to shut down, police officers sounded the warning, strolling along subway platforms and telling people that the next train would be the last. The conductor of a No. 4 train that pulled into the Borough Hall station in Brooklyn at 12:14 p.m. had the same message.

“This is it,” he said, smiling. “You’re just in time.”

Soon subway employees were stretching yellow tape across the entrances to stations to keep people from going down the steps and into a subterranean world that was suddenly off limits, but not deserted. Transit workers were charged with executing a huge, mostly underground ballet, moving 200 subway trains away from outdoor yards that could flood if the storm delivered the 6 to 12 inches of rain that forecasts called for. The trains were to be parked in tunnels across the city, making regular runs impossible.

Mr. Bloomberg said the transit system was “unlikely to be back” in service on Monday. He said crews would have to pump water from tunnels if they flooded and restore the signal system before they could move the parked trains out. That would mean “the equipment’s not where you would want it” for the morning rush, he said. “Plan on a commute without mass transit on Monday morning.”

Mr. Bloomberg also said electricity could be knocked out in Lower Manhattan if Consolidated Edison shut off the power to pre-empt the problems that flooding could cause for its cables. (A Con Ed spokesman said later that the company, while prepared, had no immediate plans for that kind of shutdown.)

Other officials, including Mr. Christie, repeated what they had said on Friday: Evacuate.

Mr. Christie said that 90 percent to 98 percent of residents in parts of four counties in South Jersey had left — Cape May, Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth. About 1,200 people who were evacuated from Atlantic County on Friday had spent the night without cots at the Sun Center arena in Trenton, where many people ended up sleeping in seats, he said. They were taken to the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, which Mr. Christie visited after a news conference.

In New York, Mr. Bloomberg said the evacuation and the transit shutdown, actions that he said had not been ordered before, were proceeding as well as could be expected, with officials going door to door in high-rise housing projects and firefighters driving school buses to help get homebound residents out of low-lying neighborhoods.

Phyllis Rhodie, 48, boarded such a bus outside the Redfern Houses in the slender peninsula of the Rockaways. She took along her boyfriend, three children, water, food, some medical supplies — and a case of nerves.

“I’m staying wherever they can put me up,” she said.

Officials said elevators in housing-project buildings would be shut off. And, for all the evacuation, some New Yorkers stayed put. The city did not evacuate inmates on Rikers Island because, a city spokesman explained, “It’s not in Zone A.”

The storm caused major disruptions long before the first bands of rain swirled by. The three major airports in the New York region stopped clearing flights for landing at noon. Officials said they would remain open for planes that wanted to take off, but most flights had been canceled on Friday, according to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority.

Amtrak canceled most trains after 11 a.m., although there was some confusion at Pennsylvania Station. A northbound train that left at 10:15 a.m. was, the conductor said, the last one going in that direction and was sold out.

The National Weather Service said the storm would churn along the Interstate 95 corridor, keeping up its 14-mile-an-hour pace. That would bring the center to the New York area by Sunday afternoon — probably east of the city on Long Island, forecasters said, although they cautioned that the path could change at any moment. The city had been under a hurricane warning, its first since 1985, since Friday afternoon.

The storm’s potential path reminded weather historians of a devastating 1938 hurricane, a storm captured on black-and-white newsreels that television stations played as Hurricane Irene approached. The 1938 storm rearranged Long Island’s geography, carving an inlet through what had been a thin but solid stretch of land on the way to the Hamptons.

On Saturday, New York awoke to an odd, greenish-gray sky, overheated air that felt heavy with moisture and only a light, summery breeze. It was not just another sleepy Saturday in August — too many people were on alert too early. In Battery Park City, long lines of taxis waited to take evacuees who carried their possessions to the curb. Uptown, some were dismayed when they found that stores like the new Fairway on East 86th Street had closed.

“It fits into the whole alarmist nature of the city,” said Mike Ortenau, 44, who lives in the neighborhood.

Reporting for the hurricane coverage was contributed by Al Baker, Michael Barbaro, Matt Flegenheimer, Christine Haughney, Thomas Kaplan, Andrew O’Reilly, Anna M. Phillips, Jennifer Preston, Melena Ryzik, Liz Robbins, Noah Rosenberg, Fernanda Santos and Tim Stelloh.

A version of this article appeared in print on August 28, 2011, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Subway System Is Closed As New Yorkers Prepare For Approaching Storm.
August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene Spawns Tornadoes, Watches From Virginia to New Jersey



 View Original Source:

Aug. 27, 2011

As Hurricane Irene moved north, with its winds and torrents of rain, it had the side effect of causing tornadoes, and officials warned they could be as dangerous as the hurricane itself.

Tornadoes were reported in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, with tornado watches in effect in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

At least five homes in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, Va., sustained major damage from a tornado, said Mary Hancock, a spokeswoman for the city, but the area had already been evacuated and there were no injuries reported. Several other homes in the area were less seriously damaged.

“The category of hurricane doesn’t explain all the risk,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate said. “Rainfall and tornadoes are not tied to the category of a storm … some of the most devastating floods have been from tropical storms.”

Click Here for Our Hurricane Irene Tracker


What do tornadoes have to do with hurricanes? A hurricane is a giant vortex of low presure sending wind and rain whipping around — but also drawing air in from other, dryer areas to fill the vacuum created by the storm. When cooler, dryer air collides with the muggy air of the hurricane, the conditions are ripe for funnel clouds to spin off in almost any direction.

While the tornadoes are much smaller than the hurricane itself, they can be considerably more intense. Their strength — and the amount of damage they can cause — is not related to the strength of the hurricane.

Americans most often hear about tornadoes in the Midwest and South, especially in the spring as cold air from Canada is pushed back by the growing warmth in the Gulf of Mexico. That formula makes for the largest number of tornadoes on earth. But meteorologists say they can happen anywhere on the planet — and in a hurricane, all bets are off.

In fact, most of the deaths from hurricanes historically do not come from the hurricane itself, but from its side effects — flooding, downed trees and power lines, and tornadoes. The first death from Irene in North Carolina came even before the storm arrived; it was a man who reportedly had a heart attack while boarding up his house.

NOAA says the most dangerous time is usually after the storm is gone, and people mistakenly think it is safe to wade through the water it has left.

“I need to stress when it stops raining, doesn’t mean that it will stop flooding,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said.

People in Massachusetts were on guard, too. The area around Springfield, Mass., was badly damaged by a tornado on June 1, and the area is likely to be right in the path of Irene’s remnants Sunday as the storm crosses New England.

More than 300,00 people evacuated low-lying parts of New York City, which was told to expect the first of Irene’s winds on Saturday night and into Sunday.

“New Yorkers like to think we are tough,” Gov Andrew Cuomo said. “We are smart enough to know we don’t mess with Mother Nature.”


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