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Irene, A Bit Weaker, Begins Its Destructive Run

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Getty/Scott Olson

Getty/Scott Olson

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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (AP) __ Hurricane Irene opened its assault on
the Eastern Seaboard on Saturday by lashing the North Carolina
coast with wind as strong as 115 mph and pounding shoreline homes
with waves. Farther north, authorities readied a massive shutdown
of trains and airports, with 2 million people ordered out of the
way.
The center of the storm passed over North Carolina’s Outer Banks
for its official landfall just after 7:30 a.m. EDT. The hurricane’s
vast reach traced the East Coast from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to just
below Cape Cod. Tropical storm conditions battered Virginia,
Maryland and Delaware, with the worst to come.
Irene weakened slightly, with sustained winds down to 85 mph
from about 100 a day earlier, making it a Category 1, the least
threatening on the scale. The National Hurricane Center reported
gusts of 115 mph and storm-surge waves as high as 7 feet.
The first death from the storm was reported in Nash County,
N.C., outside Raleigh, where emergency officials said a man was
crushed by a large limb that blew off a tree.
Hurricane-force winds arrived near Jacksonville, N.C., at first
light, and wind-whipped rain lashed the resort town of Nags Head.
Tall waves covered the beach, and the surf pushed as high as the
backs of some of the houses and hotels fronting the strand.
“There’s nothing you can do now but wait. You can hear the wind
and it’s scary,” said Leon Reasor, who rode out the storm in the
Outer Banks town of Buxton. “Things are banging against the house.
I hope it doesn’t get worse, but I know it will. I just hate
hurricanes.”
At least two piers on the Outer Banks were wiped out, the roof
of a car dealership was ripped away, and a hospital in Morehead
City that was running on generators. In all, more than 400,000
people were without power on the East Coast.
Susan Kinchen, who showed up at a shelter at a North Carolina
high school with her daughter and 5-month-old granddaughter, said
she felt unsafe in their trailer. Kinchen, from Louisiana, said she
was reminded of how Hurricane Katrina peeled the roof of her
trailer there almost exactly six years ago, on Aug. 29, 2005.
“I’m not taking any chances,” she said.
In the Northeast, unaccustomed to tropical weather of any
strength, authorities made plans to bring the basic structures of
travel grinding to a halt. The New York City subway, the largest in
the United States, was making its last runs at noon, and all five
area airports were accepting only a few final hours’ worth of
flights.
The New York transit system carries 5 million people on
weekdays, fewer on weekends, and has never been shut for weather.
Transit systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia also announced plans
to shut down. Washington declared a state of emergency, days after
it had evacuated for an earthquake.
New York City ordered 300,000 people to leave low-lying areas,
including the Battery Park City neighborhood at the southern tip of
Manhattan, the beachfront Rockaways in Queens and Coney Island in
Brooklyn. But it was not clear how many people would get out, or
how they would do it.
“How can I get out of Coney Island?” said Abe Feinstein, 82,
who has lived for half a century on the eighth floor of a building
overlooking the boardwalk. “What am I going to do? Run with this
walker?”
Authorities in New York said they would not arrest people who
chose to stay, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned on Friday: “If
you don’t follow this, people may die.”
Streets and subway cars were much emptier than on a typical
Saturday morning. On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around
subway grates nearest the East River, which is expected to surge as
the worst hits New York.
The city’s largest power company said it could cut power to some
neighborhoods if the storm causes serious flooding. Salt water can
damage power lines, and cutting power would speed repairs.
In all, evacuation orders covered about 2.3 million people,
including 1 million in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in
North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia and 100,000 in Delaware.
Authorities and experts said it was probably the most people ever
threatened by a single storm in the United States.
Airlines said 8,300 flights were canceled, including 3,000 on
Saturday. Greyhound suspended bus service between Richmond, Va.,
and Boston. Amtrak canceled trains in the Northeast for Sunday.
Forecasters said the core of Irene would roll up the
mid-Atlantic coast Saturday night and over southern New England on
Sunday. Late Saturday morning, Irene was centered about 120 miles
south of Norfolk, Va. It was moving north-northeast at 15 mph.
Maximum sustained winds remained around 85 mph.
North of the Outer Banks, the storm pounded the Hampton Roads
region of southeast Virginia, a jagged network of inlets and rivers
that floods easily. Emergency officials there were less worried
about the wind and more about storm surge, the high waves that
accompany a hurricane. Gas stations there were low on fuel, and
grocery stores scrambled to keep water and bread on the shelves.
In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell ordered an evacuation of coastal
areas on the peninsula that the state shares with Maryland and
Virginia. In Atlantic City, N.J., all 11 casinos announced they
would shut down for only the third time since gambling became legal
there 33 years ago.
In Baltimore’s Fells Point, one of the city’s oldest waterfront
neighborhoods, people filled sandbags and placed them at building
entrances. A few miles away at the Port of Baltimore, vehicles and
cranes continued to unload huge cargo ships that were rushing to
offload and get away from the storm.
A steady rain fell on the boardwalk at Ocean City, Md., where a
small amusement park was shut down and darkened __ including a ride
called the Hurricane. Businesses were boarded up, many painted with
messages like “Irene don’t be mean!”
Charlie Koetzle, 55, who has lived in Ocean City for a decade,
came to the boardwalk in swim trunks and flip-flops to look at the
sea. While his neighbors and most everyone else had evacuated,
Koetzle said he told authorities he wasn’t leaving. To ride out the
storm, he had stocked up with soda, roast beef, peanut butter,
tuna, nine packs of cigarettes and a detective novel.
Of the storm, he said: “I always wanted to see one.”
______
Copyright Associated Press

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