Leaders Press Evacuation as Irene Barrels North

Power outages as the weakening hurricane makes progress up the East Coast

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Hurricane Irene began lashing the coast of North Carolina overnight, with the core of the storm making landfall after 7 a.m. Saturday. The storm lost power slightly, the Associated Press reported, dropping from a Category 2 to a Category 1 storm, but still appears sure to cause major damage along the eastern United States.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the enormous storm's top sustained winds slipped to 90 mph early Saturday from 100 mph overnight but warned Irene would remain a hurricane as it moves up the mid-Atlantic coast, still on track to hit the New York City area and New England.
"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."

The AP reported that the storm made landfall near Cape Lookout at 7:37 a.m.

Even before the storm's center reached the mainland, Irene was announcing herself. Wind and rain that lashed the coast in advance of Irene's arrival left more than 160,000 customers without power in North Carolina by 6:30 a.m., The New York Times reported.

State officials from the Carolinas up to Massachusetts urged people living in areas that could be vulnerable to storm surges to evacuate. Some urged more forcefully than others. Here was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's message to the beach-going public on Friday, as quoted in the Cherry Hill Courier-Post:

"Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park," he said during an afternoon news briefing. "You're done. Do not waste any more time working on your tan."

Up the highway, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered the evacuation of flood-prone areas of the city, or about 370,000 people, according to The Times. The city also planned the first-ever total closure of its mass transit system in advance of the storm.

If state officials were having trouble keeping some residents focused on the need to evacuate, their cause was not helped by some of the few remaining survivors of one of the storms to which Irene is being compared: the massive hurricane that ripped the New England coast in 1938. Survivors of that storm told ABC News there was a major difference between that ordeal and the one for which New England is bracing now. In 1938, there was little warning of the storm about to strike.

Mary Johnston, 95, who lived in Rhode Island at the time, said, "We weren't prepared. We didn't know 'til people practically blew into the ocean!"

Johnston was among those wishing that folks would pipe down about Irene, saying "I don't think this one's going to amount to anything."

Update 8:35 a.m.: For a good storm-tracker, see this tool from The Weather Channel.

Update 10:19 a.m.: Reports of damage in N.C. are beginning to trickle in. CNN says a pier was washed out and the siding of a hotel in the town of Atlantic Beach was torn away, even though the town "did not feel the full brunt of the storm." Areas that did feel the full impact experienced sustained winds of 85 miles per hour when Irene came ashore around 7:30 a.m.

Update 10:48 a.m.: NPR reports on Bloomberg's efforts to convince those ignoring evacuation orders that the threat is real. They should be clearing out of low-lying or flood prone areas of the city "right now." Bloomberg and other political leaders are urging residents to consider the size of the storm now headed straight for the northeast. Size gives a storm star-power, say the folks at Slate, but doesn't necessarily correlate to its devastation. See the relatively scrawny, but destructive Hurricane Andrew.

Update 11:58 a.m.: It just got real in New York City. The transit shutdown has begun, per @grynbaum. Oh, and surfers? Don't hold your breath if you're waiting for a lifeguard...

Update 12:13 p.m.: The Christian Science Monitor sees her up close: "Thankfully, not a 'monster.'"

Update 1:57 p.m.: Not a monster, perhaps, but still deadly. At least three are dead in North Carolina, local media outlets report.

Update 5:15 p.m.: CNN reports roughly one million people without power, and 1 million evacuating in advance of the storm in New Jersey alone. The storm was moving slowly and still sustaining winds of 80 miles per hour at 5 p.m., according to Weather.com's Hurricane Tracker. At that hour, Irene was reported to be over northeastern North Carolina, just south of Norfolk Virginia.

Update 5:25 p.m.: Signs of a weakening storm, according to The Times' Don Van Natta Jr. He tweets: "Maximum sustained winds are now down to 80 mph, NHC says. Category 1 cutoff is 74. #Irene is hanging on to hurricane status by a thread."

Update 6:35 p.m.: The most shocking image of all? Grand Central Terminal, empty. Via Gothamist.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.