NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – As Hurricane Irene batters New York City with heavy rains and gusting winds, Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed New Yorkers with words of warning.
“Combined, I think it’s fair to say these conditions make it unsafe to stay outside. Let me just repeat that. The time for evacuation is over. Everyone should now go inside and be prepared to stay inside until weather conditions improve, which won’t likely be until Sunday afternoon,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a 10 p.m. news conference.
“We have prepared for this. We have worked very hard. We warned the public and now we have to deal with what comes from Mother Nature. Your safety, your own safety, is dependent on what you do,” he said.
MANY SEEK SHELTER
Evacuees from Hurricane Irene sought refuge any place they could: with friends and family, in churches and schools, at stadiums and universities _ and even some five-star hotels.
As the first rain and winds of Irene hit coastal New Jersey on Saturday, Gov. Chris Christie introduced himself as Chris at a Rutgers University gym and encouraged residents to “hang in there.”
The American Red Cross had well over 150 shelters open from North Carolina to Connecticut. More than 10,000 people in New Jersey and New York were at shelters Saturday night.
For those willing to fork over big bucks for a dry dwelling, ritzy hotels provided a luxurious alternative to improvised shelters. A double room with an interior view was going for $695 per night at The Ritz-Carlton New York.
The normally bustling streets of the Big Apple emptied out and the rumble of the subways came to a stop. New York buttoned up Saturday against Hurricane Irene, which threatened to paralyze Wall Street and give the big city its worst thrashing from a storm since at least the 1980s.
“We will get through these next 24 hours, I assure you. The city has taken exhaustive steps to prepare for whatever comes our way, and the very best first responders are going to work nonstop through the night to make sure that we get through this night as safely as possible,” he added.
City officials cautioned that if Irene stayed on track, it could bring gusts of 85 mph overnight that could shatter skyscraper windows. They said there was an outside chance that a storm surge in Lower Manhattan could send seawater streaming into the maze of underground vaults that hold the city’s cables and pipes, knocking out power to thousands and crippling the nation’s financial capital.
Bloomberg ordered the first mandatory evacuation ever in New York. More than 370,000 people were told to be out by 5 p.m. from low-lying areas on the fringes of the city, mostly in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers living in low-lying coastal areas from Manhattan to Long island were trying to get out of Hurricane Irene’s path or were hunkering down to ride out the potentially devastating storm Saturday as it moved up the Eastern Seaboard.
Asked if the city could’ve done more to promote evacuations, a fatigued Bloomberg listed the efforts taken.
“We’ve tried as much as we can to get out the message. We’ve had organizations like Con Ed who have offered their phone banks, their automated calls to call people and say please evacuate , the law requires that you do so. We’ve had as much press as we could possibly get to inform people. We’ve used the staffs of a variety of agencies to call people to do that. I think most people have heard about it. Whether they’ve chosen to do so, I don’t know,” he said.
“If you haven’t evacuated, our suggestion would be that you stay where you are,” he added.
County officials on Long Island ordered a mandatory evacuation of many southern shore communities. Dozens of shelters were opened to receive people evacuating from places like Patchogue, though officials were encouraging people to stay with relatives or friends where they would be more comfortable. Those using shelters were encouraged to bring their pets in crates.
Nearly 55,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey are without power as Hurricane Irene closes in on the state. Atlantic City Electric says it has about 50,000 customers without power, including more than 23,000 in Atlantic County, as of
9:30 p.m. Saturday.
Public Service Electric and Gas is reporting scattered outages, including more than 2,000 customers in Burlington County. Jersey Central Power and Light has about 2,500 customers without electricity, mostly in Monmouth County.
Utilities have warned it could take several days to restore power if there are widespread outages.
Forecasters say Irene’s sustained winds have eased a bit but are still at hurricane strength as the bulk of the powerful storm starts to re-emerge over the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The National Weather Service said Saturday evening that winds were at 80 mph, down from 85 mph, but with higher gusts.
Almost a million homes and businesses were without power. While it was too early to assess the full threat, Irene was blamed for five deaths.
The hurricane stirred up 7-foot waves, and forecasters warned of storm-surge danger on the coasts of Virginia and Delaware, along the Jersey Shore and in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. In the Northeast, drenched by rain this summer, the ground is already saturated, raising the risk of flooding.
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. Parts of North Carolina recorded gusts as high as 94, however.
The storm’s winds had weakened overnight, but many forecasters warned Irene would remain a hurricane as it moves up the mid-Atlantic coast, and then toward the New York City area and New England.
By midnight, Irene should bring between 35 and 55 mph winds to the New York Metro Area, as well as moderate rainfall, according to CBS 2′s weather forecaster Lonnie Quinn.
The storm should then strengthen, with up to 60 mph winds and heavy rain at 3 a.m. Sunday, and up to 75 mph winds by 7 a.m.
Irene’s rainfall will begin to taper off around noon Sunday, and the winds will weaken to nearly 55 mph by 3 p.m.
At 6 p.m., Irene’s wind will be between 30 and 45 mph, but the rain will be reduced to only showers.
Officials now believe the storm was responsible for the death of a man in North Carolina, who died after a large tree limb crashed on to him. A North Carolina emergency management official said the man was walking outside his home around 10:20 a.m. when the limb hit him.
Travelers across the country are facing days of grief ahead as thousands of flights are being cancelled because of Irene.
Airlines are scrapping more than 8,300 flights this weekend from North Carolina to Boston, grounding passengers as Irene sweeps up the East Coast. There were more than 3,600 cancellations on Saturday alone.
“This is probably the largest number of people who have been threatened by a single hurricane in the United States,” said Jay Baker, a geography professor at Florida State University.
“The hazards are still the same,” National Hurricane Center hurricane specialist Mike Brennan said. “The emphasis for this storm is on its size and duration, not necessarily how strong the strongest winds are.”
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama declared an emergency in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut and ordered federal assistance to supplement the response to Hurricane Irene for those states.
The action allows federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide emergency equipment and other resources as needed.
Forecasters said the core of Irene would roll up the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday night and over southern New England on Sunday.
SEVERE WEATHER ALERTS:
Tornado Watch in NJ – Coastal Ocean, Eastern Bergen, Eastern Essex, Eastern Monmouth, Eastern Passaic, Eastern Union, Hudson, Middlesex, Northwestern Burlington, Ocean, Western Bergen, Western Essex, Western Monmouth, Western Passaic, Western Union
Hurricane Warning in NJ – Coastal Ocean, Eastern Bergen, Eastern Essex, Eastern Monmouth, Eastern Passaic, Eastern Union, Hudson, Middlesex, Northwestern Burlington, Ocean, Western Bergen, Western Essex, Western Monmouth, Western Union
Areal Flood Advisory, Areal Flood Watch in NJ – Hudson
Areal Flood Watch in NJ – Coastal Ocean, Eastern Bergen, Eastern Essex, Eastern Monmouth, Eastern Passaic, Eastern Union, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Northwestern Burlington, Ocean, Somerset, Sussex, Western Bergen, Western Essex, Western Monmouth, Western Passaic, Western Union
Tornado Watch – Bronx, Kings (Brooklyn), New York (Manhattan), Northeast Suffolk, Northern Nassau, Northern Queens, Northern Westchester, Northwest Suffolk, Richmond (Staten Is.), Rockland, Southeast Suffolk, Southern Nassau, Southern Queens, Southern Westchester, Southwest Suffolk
Hurricane Warning – Bronx, Kings (Brooklyn), New York (Manhattan), Northeast Suffolk, Northern Nassau, Northern Queens, Northern Westchester, Northwest Suffolk, Putnam, Richmond (Staten Is.), Rockland, Southeast Suffolk, Southern Nassau, Southern Queens, Southern Westchester, Southwest Suffolk
Areal Flood Advisory, Areal Flood Watch – Bronx, Kings (Brooklyn), New York (Manhattan), Northeast Suffolk, Northern Nassau, Northern Queens, Northern Westchester, Northwest Suffolk, Orange, Putnam, Richmond (Staten Is.), Rockland, Southeast Suffolk, Southern Nassau, Southern Queens, Southern Westchester, Southwest Suffolk
High Wind Warning – Sullivan
Areal Flood Watch in PA – Pike
High Wind Warning in PA – Pike
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