Hurricane Irene Hits New York

Hurricane Irene has hit New York with ferocious winds and driving rain that has caused massive power blackouts as the storm churns slowly northward along the east coast.

New York City’s normally bustling streets were eerily quiet after authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents to evacuate low-lying areas and shut down its subways, airports and buses.

Commuters were left to try to flag down yellow taxis and livery cabs that patrolled largely deserted streets.

Hurricane Irene, still a menacing 780 kilometre-wide hurricane, was enveloping major centres in the north-east, threatening dangerous floods and surging tides.

From the Carolinas to Maine, tens of millions of people were in the hurricane’s path, which howled ashore in North Carolina at daybreak on Saturday, dumping torrential rain, felling trees and knocking out power.

At least eight deaths were reported in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg warned more than 8 million people who live in New York that tropical storm-force winds would hit the city.

Mr Bloomberg told New Yorkers Irene was a life-threatening storm and urged them to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines.

“The edge of the hurricane has finally got upon us. It is dangerous out there,” he said.

“New York is the greatest city in the world and we will weather this storm.”

About 370,000 city residents were ordered to leave their homes in low-lying areas, many of them in parts of the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

But many were unwilling to evacuate. Nicholas Vigliotti, 24, an auditor who lives in a high-rise building along the Brooklyn waterfront said he saw no point.

“Even if there was a flood, I live on the fifth floor,” he said.

Storm surge fears

The Miami-based US National Hurricane Centre forecast a storm surge of up to 2.5 metres for Long Island and metropolitan New York.

That could top the flood walls protecting the south end of Manhattan if it comes at high tide around 8:00am (local time).

With winds of 130 km per hour, Irene was a category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.

By 11:30pm, the centre of the storm was 115 km south-south-west of Ocean City, Maryland, and 415 km south-south-west of New York City.

As it moved into New York, the centre said it expected Irene to remain a hurricane and weaken only after making its second landfall in New England.

It added that Irene’s winds could have a stronger impact on the higher floors of skyscrapers.

Summer vacationers fled beach towns and resort islands on Saturday. More than 1 million people left the New Jersey shore and glitzy Atlantic City casinos were dark and empty.

This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in US history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.

President Barack Obama, who cut his vacation short on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard to return to the White House, was keeping a close eye on preparations for the hurricane.

After moving across North Carolina with less punch than expected but still threatening, the hurricane re-emerged over inshore waters on its route northward, hugging the coast.

Several million people are still under evacuation orders on the US east coast.

Irene left several million people without power in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware and widespread blackouts were reported in New York.

When Irene hit the North Carolina coast at daybreak on Saturday, winds howled through the power lines, rain fell in sheets and streets were flooded or littered with signs and tree branches.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Irene’s path evacuated their homes, many taking refuge in official shelters.

“Things can be replaced, but life can’t be,” said Robert Hudson, a 64-year-old military retiree, who sought refuge at a shelter in Milford High School in Delaware.

North Carolina governor Bev Perdue said there may be “a major hit” to tobacco crops, poultry and livestock in her state.

Shoppers stripped supermarkets and hardware stores of food, water, flashlights, batteries and generators.

Torrential rain hit downtown Washington but expected high winds had still not reached the city after midnight and restaurants remained open, some of them almost full.

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