Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene: America's east coast hunkers down

Officials are considering whether to evacuate low-lying areas of Manhattan after hurricane Irene barrelled out of the Bahamas towards a wide swath of the eastern US.
Irene, which achieved gusts of up to 128mph on Thursday, is forecast to maintain or even increase its intensity as it progresses. The storm could hit North Carolina's Outer Banks on Saturday morning with winds of around 115mph. It is predicted to travel up the east coast, spewing rain over parts of Virginia and Washington DC, New Jersey and New York City before reaching Maine on Monday afternoon.
North Carolina is expected to bear the brunt of Irene, and most of the coast was on hurricane watch with the National Hurricane Centre warning to expect dangerous storm surges where the storm makes landfall. But a much greater area of the eastern US, from the Carolinas up to Maine, could also feel the effects, federal officials warned.
"North Carolina looks like the greatest threat right now," Craig Fugate, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said. "But the rest of the eastern seaboard is well within the path of the storm. It is going to bring in all of the north-east corridor for heavy rains, high winds and potential flooding."
Residents were warned to expect power cuts due to fallen trees as well as flooding. "You can expect at a minimum 5 to 10 inches of rain, and with hurricane force winds inland you are going to get a lot of treefall and a lot of flooding," said Bill Read, of the National Hurricane Centre.
As of Thursday, Irene was the strongest storm to threaten the Atlantic coast since 2005. It is also cutting a course that could take it much farther inland than any other storm since 1985.As it travels north, federal officials from North Carolina to Maine began warning residents in low-lying and coastal areas to prepare to evacuate.
Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray urged residents to study emergency evacuation routes and said the mostly low-lying city would make sandbags available on Friday and Saturday.
Map: hurricane Irene expected path (small image) Hurricane Irene's expected path. Click the map for a larger version Officials cancelled the much anticipated dedication of a new memorial to Martin Luther King, which had been scheduled to take place on Sunday, the anniversary of his I Have A Dream speech. As many as 300,000 people had been expected to attend the ceremony on the Mall.
In New York City, mayor Michael Bloomberg said that residents living in low-lying areas in downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island should start moving out on Friday, before Irene is expected to hit. He earlier advised residents to begin packing small bags with food and water, medicines, important documents and other essentials in case they are ordered to evacuate.
Hospitals began running checks on emergency generators, medicines and other supplies. City police mobilised 50 small boats to use in the event of floods. (See the New York City evacuation map [large PDF].)
At least two major league baseball teams – the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies – adjusted their weekend schedules, playing double headers on Saturday to avoid Sunday games.
Fugate warned that even if Irene decreases in intensity it could still cause significant disruption and damage to property. "You don't really need hurricane-force winds. Even winds blowing 40mph, or 50 and 60mph, if they are blowing for hours, can cause trees to come down and widespread power outages," he said.
Hurricane Irene has already caused considerable damage in the southern Bahamas as it made its way to the US. Officials reported that at least 40 homes were badly damaged on the island of Mayaguana.
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