Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene: live updates

Debris on the beachfront in North Carolina, hit by Hurricane Irene
Debris and sand littering a road as Hurricane Irene came ashore near Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, 27 August 2011. Photograph: Reuters/Steve Nesius
7.05pm ET: Time for a summary of the day's news as Hurricane Irene carved its way up the United States' Atlantic coast, Saturday:
At least five fatalities have now been attributed to the storm. Three of these deaths were caused, directly or indirectly, by trees felled by high winds. In Florida, a surfer was killed while attempting to take advantage of the hurricane-powered waves.
Approximately 1 million Americans – in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and DC – are without electricity. The mayor of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania has warned citizens that outages could last for days, even weeks. As Irene heads north, that number is likely to grow.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate coastal and low-lying areas along the eastern seaboard. As many as 1 million people have left the Jersey shore. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has warned that "we are going to break down doors if we have to" to enforce the evacuation.
Transport has ground to a virtual halt on the east coast. Some 9,000 flights have been cancelled from affected airports. In New York, all public transport has closed down until Monday.
Despite Irene losing force, downgraded to category 1, storm surges and heavy rains are creating danger of widespread flooding. In northern New England, Vermont's governor has declared a state of emergency, with flooding predicted in every river in the state.
With that, Matt Seaton is signing off. Matt Wells continues the service here. Good night, Irene.
6.37pm ET: The mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, has declared the city's first state of emergency in 25 years. He warns of extensive and long-lasting blackouts:
Due to severity of the storm, you may experience power outages of a week, 10 days or two weeks.
Meanwhile, New York City warns that ferry services will soon be ending. The Staten Island ferry already moved to an hourly service and will stop at 10pm, if not sooner. The subway system and other mass transit have been closed for some hours now.
The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) says that DC can expect the worst of the storm-lashing between 8pm and 2am tonight.
Panic shopping in Brooklyn ahead of Hurricane Irene
6.23pm ET: Youjung Byun writes in with this photo as witness to the manic emergency supplies shopping that was going on earlier on Saturday in New York. Youjung captions his picture thus:
I took a photo of people stacking up foods and water from Key Food Supermarket on Grand Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. People in the supermarket were obviously nervous and anxious, most of them filled their shopping cart up full. By the time when I went, the water was sold out.
One guy was using his traveller's suit case: it was filled with canned foods, water and crackers.
6.07pm ET: Further from Suzanne Goldenberg, who has been listening to the 5pm podcast from the National Weather Service's hurricane centre:
The biggest threat, she says, comes from storm surges, with winds piling the water towards the shore line in the Norfolk area, Delaware Bay, the Jersey shore, New York Harbour and Long Island Sound at particular risk.
Note: we have a new moon and extra high tides in any case. High tide is at 8am tomorrow morning for New York City, which pretty much coincides with the arrival of Irene.
Suzanne summarises further:
The update also notes that while Irene might be shifting a little to the east, and out over the ocean, that is unlikely to bring relief. The storm will produce between 6-12 inches of rain across a 150-mile swathe to its west. Some areas can expect up to 20 inches of rain.
The other danger, highlighted in the podcast, is downed trees, with strong winds bringing down trees and causing minor structural damage to buildings.
On cue, here is Patrick Wintour, the Guardian's British political editor, who seems to have chosen a possibly inopportune time to be vacationing in the Hamptons:
We are expecting 70 mile per hour winds over the next 24 hours and power blackouts here in Long Island south seashore. Cars are parked from trees, water in the bathtub, flashlights at the ready and life vests for the young ones. Playing stormy music, ping pong and Lego, and watching the hour but not the weather channel. Roar of the ocean can be heard from kitchen garden and is growing louder. The winds and rain get serious by midnight.
I think we see some British sangfroid there. Keep calm and carry on, Patrick.
Rikers Island prison Rikers Island prison, home to 12,000 inmates. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP Photo
5.52pm ET: My colleague Paul Harris draws my attention to this piece from Mother Jones about the status of the Rikers Island prison, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx. (Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of course, was recently a guest.) The predicament of the prison's 12,000 inmates and guards has a new pertinency as Mayor Bloomberg delivered a tough message about the compulsory evacuation of 250,000 people from Zone A vulnerable areas. Mojo notes:
According to the New York City Department of Correction's website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island's 400 acres are built on landfill – which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its 10 jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness – not to mention pretrial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.
We were not able to reach anyone at the DOC for comment, but the New York Times's City Room blog reported: "According to the city's Department of Correction, no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists. Contingencies do exist for smaller-scale relocations from one facility to another."
5.31pm ET: The figure for the number of people without power along the United States' eastern seaboard keeps rising. Suzanne Goldenberg updates us:
About 1 million people are now without power because of Hurricane Irene – and the storm hasn't even reached the major population centres yet. As the storm moved north, power outages were reported in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, DC.
The biggest outages so far are in North Carolina, where more than 500,000 households were without power by afternoon. South-eastern Virginia is also experiencing blackouts. The power company Dominion Resources said about a third of its 212,000 customers in south-eastern Virginia were without power by 4pm.
The heavy rain also took down power lines around the city of Richmond, where about 50,000 people were without power, as well as in the suburbs of Washington, DC.
Mayor Bloomberg updates New Yorkers on City's response to Hurricane Irene. Video: YouTube
5.14pm ET: Michael Bloomberg's remarks about using the law to move people out of the Zone A evacuation areas are the most telling element of this afternoon's press conference. Learning the lessons of Katrina, the New York mayor is not pussyfooting around with the mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas: the message is that if people do not go of their own accord, the police will be force them to leave.
This is a storm where if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be fatal … the thing that makes the most sense is to first comply with the mandatory evacuation.
Outside the mayor's jurisdiction, on Long Island, county and town officials are also enforcing the compulsory evacuation of some 400,000 people, reports the New York Times.
President Obama with Janet Napolitano at Fema President Obama with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at Fema headquarters. Photograph: Getty Images/Ron Sachs
4.33pm ET: The Guardian's US environment correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg (@suzyji), has filed this report from Washington, DC about the situation facing the state of Vermont. Vermont, which is at least 200 miles north of New York City, is not normally troubled by tropical storms, but has already seen an unseasonably large amount of rain this month.
Vermont was expected to be well clear of Irene, but White House reporters who visited Fema's headquarters in Washington with Barack Obama earlier today have been told the state is at risk of severe flooding.
Vermont's governor, Peter Shumlin, declared a state of emergency on Saturday. According to the pool report, quoting an unidentified Vermont briefer:
"The weather service is saying that every river in the state will probably flood over the next two days, so we are preparing for that. Our quick water rescue teams pre-deployed. They will be in place by noon tomorrow. And the National Guard is also standing by ready to support us.''
State officials in Vermont are also warning people to be "self-reliant", and brace themselves for the possibility that they will not have power for two or three days.
The eye-catching detail there is "every river in the state" likely flooding.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
3.56pm ET: What is conspicuously apparent is that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is making sure that he's out in front of the media and fully engaged. This new tweet (@MikeBloomberg) is typical of his messaging in this weather-related crisis – in marked contrast, as the New York Times pointed out, to his somewhat mysterious absence during last Christmas's snowstorm, for which he took a lot of flak:
I want to assure our city that we will get through this. We are New Yorkers, and New Yorkers have always risen to the challenge #Irene
And so here is also answering questions at this afternoon's press conference, talking about issues of flooding risk, power cuts and telecoms outtages, and also addressing the status of evacuation plans. So far, he says, there are only 1,400 people using the evacuation centres (for locations, see this pdf map):
We've prepared for a large number of people; we're not worrying about running out of capacity. We have room for 70,000 people, with cots and beds for 40,000 … we don't think it'll come remotely close.
He also reports that compliance with the compulsory evacuation of low-lying areas like the Rockaways, on the south shore of Long Island, has generally been good – 80% of inhabitants there have left. But he warns that if people refuse to leave, they will feel the force of the law:
We are going to break down doors if we have to.
The relatively low number of people so far turning up at the evacuation centres tallies with reports from my colleague Karen McVeigh (follow her at @karenmcveigh1), who has been talking to evacuees in Brooklyn:
At one evacuation centre in Brooklyn, close to the waterside neighbourhood of Red Hook, staff said that only "about 100" people had turned up so far. Niyelle Manley, 24, who arrived at the centre with her two-month-old baby Kallyah, and wheelchair-bound mother, Patricia, said that out of the 20 families in her block, seven or eight had stayed behind.
"We warned a lot of them but I guess they took it as a joke," said Niyelle.
The Manleys live in the projects, on the first floor of a block near the pier in Red Hook and left home after a volunteer arranged transport for them. "I ain't happy about it but something has to be done on account of my grand-daughter," said Patricia, 52. They were waiting outside John Jay High School in Park Slope for another vehicle to take them to another shelter better equipped for wheelchair users.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (see Matt Wells's account if his press conference below) has tweeted the following advice
Update Your Status: alert your loved ones about your location with social media status updates. #irene
Heavy rain in Virginia from Hurricane Irene Heavy rain falls from Hurricane Irene in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photograph: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
3.32pm ET: That fourth death attributed to Irene is of an 11-year-old boy in Newport News, Virginia, caused by a fallen tree hitting an apartment building. NBC has the story, and is also reporting that some 300,000 people in Virginia are affected by power outages already, as Irene edges north into that state. CNN makes that up to a total of 670,000 people without electricity, adding in North Carolina.
A timely warning from Fema, via the LA Times, that even downgraded to category 1, Irene remains dangerous and capable of causing extensive damage. And Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has put 6,500 troops on notice for possible disaster relief work, reports the Washington Post.
3.16pm ET: While we're waiting for NYC's mayor, a veritable storm of hurricane Irene graphics is blowing through. The New York Times's tracker is elegant. The Washington Post's is more mappy. But as rainfall radar illustrations go, this – from WeatherUnderground – is hard to beat. What that kaleidoscope of colours means, apparently, is that 17 inches of rain have fallen on New Bern in North Carolina today.
More gravely, via the @wunderground Twitter feed, NBC is reporting a fourth death caused by the storm. More detail follows.
2.45pm ET: Matt Seaton here with you now, while Matt Wells takes a well-earned break. A strange atmosphere pervades in New York City today. Literally so, in that the only harbinger of the coming tropical storm so far, other than light rain and the occasional heavier shower, is tropical humidity – around 90% according to Accuweather.com.
But as my colleague Paul Harris just reported, it's very odd indeed to see near-empty streets and all the big stores closed on a summer Saturday. Very few cars, too; mainly just yellow cabs and some emergency services vehicles. But an eerie feeling of calm before the storm, as New York hunkers down.
Next up, though, will be Mayor Michael Bloomberg; we're expecting a 3pm press conference update. I'll be covering that, but you can also watch live on the nyc.gov site.
A store in New York shuts down in preparation for hurricane Irene A store in Manhattan, New York shuts down in preparation for hurricane Irene. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images
2.26pm ET: My colleague Paul Harris has been on the streets of the East Village in Manhattan. He writes:
Walking around the usually bustling East Village, the signs of preparation for Irene are everywhere: mixed in with the usual scenes of a New York social weekend. Many businesses are shut. Some have even put tape across their window panes in a bid to minimise damage should the storm break them.
It's an arresting sight, familiar from footage of seeing hurricanes hit more tropical climes, but it is weird to see it on a New York shop front. There was a long queue at a supermarket at St Mark's Place and the local cinema, chain stores like Duane Reade and Starbucks and banks are all closed.
But where bars and restaurants are open they are busy with New Yorkers brunching and drinking as usual. There are some joggers and even one or two beauty salons are still open for business with a few customers getting pre-hurricane mani-pedis. After all, you want to look your best for Irene's arrival on Manhattan.
2.18pm ET: CNN just cut off Christie mid flow. He's obviously too windy even for them.
Chris Christie and Tom Corbett
2.14pm ET: And he doesn't disappoint. Christie is not having any of this category one nonsense. This is a big storm for a big guy and he's on it. Particularly the beach.
The best way to preserve life on the Jersey Shore is for there to be no human beings on the Jersey Shore, given what's about to come. The tracking of the storm continues to be very ominous for our state. While there has been some minor weeaking of the storm to a category one strom, decreasing the wind speeds by 10 or 15 mph is not going to make much difference to what's going to cause harm to people here.
2.07pm ET: Watch out, New Jersey governor Big Chris Christie is up on TV. Yesterday he told everyone to "get the hell off the beach". Apparently they have. Great. Let's see what he has to say today.
2.05pm ET: Reader Simon Frank has been in touch – he experienced Irene when he was in Nassau in the Bahamas, where hurricane Irene passed this week. He writes:
I sat through the storm in a beachside apartment in Love Beach, Nassau, Bahamas. It was a category 3 storm as it barrelled through the Bahamas. We lost power for around 18 hours. There were several trees down, but not a lot of buildings damaged anywhere on the island. The apartment block shook throughout the small hours. The strongest winds I have felt since Frances in 2004.
1.44pm ET: More from President Obama's visit to Fema, tape of which has just been broadcast. He said during the visit:
It's going to be a long 72 hours. The biggest concern is the flooding and the power. It sounds like that's going to be an enormous strain on some states.
1.37pm ET: Progress Energy now says that 273,000 residents are without power in North Carolina. Separately, three deaths have now been confirmed in the state.
Hurricane Irene strikes North Carolina Waves crash into Kitty Hawk pier as Hurricane Irene strikes the Outer Banks in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA
1.19pm ET: What of those who are experiencing Irene right now?
"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, and spoke to the Associated Press. "Things are banging against the house. I hope it doesn't get worse, but I know it will. I just hate hurricanes."
Susan Kinchen, who arrived at a shelter at a North Carolina high school with her daughter and five-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, in 2005. "I'm not taking any chances," she said.
Charlie Koetzle, 55, who has lived in Ocean City, Maryland, for a decade, came to the boardwalk in swim trunks and flip-flops to look at the sea. While his neighbours and almost 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."
12.54pm ET: One of the most significant lines to come out of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's news conference earlier (see 9.36am ET) was his suggestion that power would be cut pre-emptively to Lower Manhattan (from where I am blogging). Fortunately, Consolidated Edison, the power company, has said it has no such plans.
According to the New York Times, Coned said that if its most vulnerable subsations are flooded, then power may be cut, affecting mostly the financial district in an area bordered by the Brooklyn Bridge to the north, Broadway to the west, and the East River.
That puts the Guardian live blog in the clear – but only just. I am just a few steps away from Broadway and the Brooklyn Bridge.
12.47pm ET: President Obama has been visiting the Fema national response coordination center in Washington, where around 50 staff are working on the federal response. He told staff: "This is obviously going to be a touch and go."
12.43pm ET: We've just published our latest news story on Irene. My colleague Karen McVeigh reports:
More than 2 million people in low-lying and coastal areas were told to evacuate and millions more were preparing for days of hurricane-force winds, rain, power cuts and disruption in its wake.
When it made landfall at Cape Lookout on North Carolina's Outer Banks, Irene was weaker than had been forecast. The National Hurricane Centre in Miami downgraded the storm from a category 2 to a category 1 overnight, as it had weakened from 100mph winds.
It forecast further weakening of the storm over the next 24 hours, but warned winds would be at near-hurricane speeds and the storm would remain large and powerful as it headed toward the mid-Atlantic coast on Saturday night and southern New England on Sunday.
"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."
In New York City, where Irene is expected to arrive on Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a strongly worded warning that the hurricane remained dangerous despite the weakening wind speeds.
12.39pm ET: As Irene tracks northeast, strong>transport systems are shutting down.
In Virginia, authorities have closed the Midtown tunnel and the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnel.
The Maryland Transit Administration is suspending all services tonight. evening. Light rail services will stop operating at 6pm, and the bus and subway service will shut at 9pm.
Transit systems in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia are already closed.
The Ronald Reagan Washington national airport and Washington Dulles international airport are still open, but most flights are cancelled. These airports may close later. Philadelphia airport will clsoe at 6pm. Also closing today are JFK and LaGuardia in New York, Newark in New Jersey, plus Stewart and Teterboro.
Tomorrow, airports in White Plains, Boston, Portland, Hartford, Manchester, and even Albany in upstate New York are epxected to close.
Already today, according to CNN, 3,367 flights have been cancelled and a further 4,970 have been pulled from the schedules tomorrow.
12.17pm ET: During hurricanes, it is compulsory for TV news networks to make reporters deliver pieces-to-camera in the most rain-lashed areas.
CNN is winning the prize for "best reporter blow-away".
11.57am ET: My colleague Suzanne Goldenberg was monitoring the Fema briefing. Here's her report:
Irene's winds may have maxed out as a category one storm, but people on the east coast are still at risk of flash floods and tornados, officials warned this morning. "I would not advise people to focus too much on category one, two or three. If you are in a hurricane, you are in a hurricane," Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, told reporters at an 11am update.
Irene is not expected to strengthen as it makes its way up the coast, Bill Read, the director of the national hurricane center, said. But the sheer size of the storm still means its carries heavy risks.
The national weather center has already received its first reports of tornado, and Read warned there could be others on the outer bands of the storm. The biggest risk, however, is flooding, with five to ten inches of rainfall expected over the weekend after an exceptionally wet August on much of the east coast.
Even with Irene's diminished wind strength, heavy rains could cause already swollen rivers to burst their banks, putting people inland at risk of flash floods. "When you talk about the category of hurricane that does not explain all the risk" Craig Fugate, the Fema director, told the briefing.
Low-lying resorts, such as Delaware's Rehoboth and Bethany Beach, are at a high risk of storm surges greater than 4ft, Read said. But as an update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency pointed out on Saturday morning such floods historically are far more dangerous than high winds.
The agency said more than 60% of hurricane deaths from 1970-1999 occurred inland, and were caused by freshwater flooding.
11.54am ET: I've just spoken to someone who was due to fly from Newark, New Jersey to London on Monday morning with Virgin Atlantic. His flight has been cancelled and the earliest Virgin can rebook him is next Sunday. Flights out of JFK are even busier, according to the Virgin operator. Many people's plans are going to be distrupted for days to come, it seems.
11.50am ET: Here in Lower Manhattan, the streets are very quiet. Many shops – even those not in the evacuation zone – are closed. Normally clogged streets are near-deserted, and the tunnels connecting Manhattan with New Jersey and Brooklyn are running unusually freely.
People wait in line to buy groceries next to empty shelves in a Manhattan grocery store People wait in line to buy groceries next to empty shelves in a Manhattan grocery store on August 27, 2011 in New York City. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images The few stores that remain open have been cleared of essentials.
11.42am ET: Airlines have cancelled a significant number of flights. United/Continental have struck out 2,300 departures, Delta 1,300, JetBlue have cancelled 900 services. In addition, BA and Virgin Atlantic have started cancelling flights to and from New York and Newark through the weekend and into Monday.
11.24am ET: MSNBC is reporting the first death related to Hurricane Irene: a man killed by a falling tree branch outside his home in North Carolinsa, says Suzanne Goldenberg.
11.23am ET: My colleague Paul Harris has been looking into the reasons why the New York authorities are so concerned about storm surges even though the wind speed forecasts have been downgraded. He writes:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has warned New Yorkers that the main problem faced by the city is not Hurricane Irene's winds but flooding caused by its storm surge. Christopher Vaccaro, director of public affairs at the National Weather Service, explained that the science behind a surge is pretty straightforward.
Irene is packing such high winds that they basically push a body of water up in front of it, driving it on land and effectively raising the level of the sea ahead of the storm. "The pressure is literally driving a surge of water that rushes inland," Vaccaro said. It is that surge which can overtop sea defences and lead to widespread flooding which will be worsened in some spots by high levels of rainfall on saturated ground.
There is another issue too. The hurricane is expected to make landfall in the New York area some time on Sunday morning and could coincide with high tide which should be around 8am, Vaccaro explained. Finally, due to the natural movements of the moon which controls the tides, tomorrow's high tide is expected to be an unusually high "spring tide". All of which will raise the level of the sea even higher and further worsen the impact of the expected storm surge.
New York is especially susceptible to this threat for two reasons. Firstly, there is simply a lot of low-lying land in the city that is vulnerable to flooding by such unusual conditions. Secondly, it is an urban area with things like subway stations built underground which would easily flood if and when sea water overtops the coastal defences. All of which makes the flooding of Irene more of a threat than the winds. "There is coastal flooding, a storm surge and a high tide. That is a very serious situation," said Vaccaro.
So Stuart Millar's O-grade in physics stood him in good stead.
11.17am ET: Bill Read, the director of the national hurricane center, speaking at the Fema news briefing, is warning of 4ft to 8ft storm surges up the eastern coastline including Delaware, New Jersey, New York Long Island, and up to New England.
11.09am ET: The homeland security secretary Janet Napolitino is speaking at a Fema news conference now. She is urging people to take Hurricane Irene seriously, warning of heavy rain, flooding and power outages "all up and down the eastern seaboard".
11.08am ET: The National Hurricane Center has just released a new update, warning of storm surges of between 5ft and 9ft above ground level in North Carolina, with sustained 85mph winds and tornadoes.
10.45am ET: Here's a summary as we approach mid-morning on the east coast of the United States.
Live blog: recap • Hurricane Irene has made landfall at Cape Lookout in North Carolina. That makes it the first hurricane to hit the shores of mainland US since 2008. It has been downgraded to a category one hurricane – the lowest in the five-point hurricane scale. Winds of around 85mph are lashing the North Carolina coast, with reports of tornadoes.
• Preparations are continuing in the major cities, including Washington and New York. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said in a press briefing at Coney Island today that the authorities are now expecting winds between 55mph and 70mph to hit the city tomorrow, down from earlier forecasts of more than 100mph. But he said the real threat was from storm-surge flooding. He warned that electricity and gas may be turned off as a precaution. The city streets are quiet, many shops are closed in Lower Manhattan and the subway system is preparing to shut down from noon.
More than 250,000 people are without power in North Carolina. There have been no reports of any injuries or deaths, but the coastguard in Virginia has been called out on a sea rescue mission. There are reports of localised flooding and downed trees.
President Obama has declared states of emergency in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Connecticut, Virginia, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This means federal agencies are mandated to mount emergency responses.
10.25am ET: My colleague Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington has sobering news. She writes:
environmentguardian.co.uk team : Suzanne Goldenberg For those who think everybody must have got the message by now to stay out of the storm – given the endless warnings from officials – consider this: the coastguard was out trying to rescue a small sail boat off the coast of Virginia this morning. It sounds like they are having difficulty getting to the boat as well, at least at first.
Coastguard spokesman John Miller says the sailboat, with two people on board, is about 400ft off the beach. They can't get a small boat or an aircraft to get near it, and are using line-throwing gun to try to pull the people in.
10.13am ET: So, why are the New York City authorities so worried about Irene given that the wind speed forecast has been downgraded to 55-70mph? My colleague Stuart Millar has this on Twitter:
Storm surge is the biggest threat to NYC because Irene covers such huge area, so is pushing a lot of water in front of it. Plus it coincides with extremely high tides due this weekend caused by the new moon – known as astronomical high tides.
Stuart, you should know, has an 'A' at O-grade physics (there's no direct American equivalent, but O-grades were Scottish high school qualifications gained at age 16). We're pitching for someone with better scientific credentials, but I'm going with this for now. Can anyone elaborate? @MatthewWells on Twitter or in the comments below.
9.59am ET: Important pet news from the New York city council: "If you are taking your pet to a shelter please bring a copy of the pet's vaccination and medical records; a leash and muzzle; carrier; and food."
This is not as stupid as it may seem. There are an estimated 500,000 dogs in New York City, only 20% of which are licensed.
9.46am ET: My colleague Paul Harris was also watching Bloomberg's press conference. He was in Coney Island with police commissioner Ray Kelly, touring preparations for Irene. He warned that city transport is shutting at mid-day and thus those who have to evacuate need to do it in the next few hours. "You have to start right now. We've had that lots of people are leaving and that's great," he said.
Paul also noted that Bloomberg is now focusing on the storm surge rather than the winds. "You can't prepare for the best case, you have to prepare for the worst case," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg also had a clear message for one specific and surprisingly numerous breed of New Yorker: the city's surfers. He warned them not to try and surf waves generated by Irene off the beaches of Long Island. "We don't want to put our first responders lives in danger to try and save you," he said.
People evacuate apartment buildings in Manhattan's Battery Park in anticipation of Hurricane Irene People evacuate apartment buildings in Manhattan's Battery Park in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images
9.36am ET: Bloomberg warns that the New York power company, Con Edison, may turn off the electricity as a precaution in Lower Manhattan if storm surges are likely. Salt water will flood the streets, he said, which causes more damage to live power lines than to those that are turned off. And he repeated his warning to those in the city's mandatory evacuation areas to leave.
It's conceivable that there'll be no electricity as well as a lot of water in the streets. Let's stop thinking this is something to play with. Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish and against the law. The time to leave is right now.
Beaches are closed for the weekend, as are all cultural institutions, he said.
The Staten Island ferry will close at 10pm. Bridges may close earlier.
He warns residents in high rises to stay away from windows above the 10th floor, where the risk of shattered glass is greater.
9.29am ET: The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, is speaking now. He says winds of between 55mph and 70mph are expected in the city tomorrow, down from predictions of over 100mph yesterday. He insists that the risk is still high, though:
The great danger to us here is from the storm surge. There is no evidence that the forecast for that has changed.
9.21am ET: The outer bands of Irene are now approaching Washington, DC, as shown by this radar picture from the National Weather Service in Sterling, Virginia.
Our correspondent Chris McGreal, has this update from DC, which has declared the obligatory state of emergency and has cancelled tomorrow's dedication ceremony for the new Martin Luther King memorial.
Chris McGreal The notoriously unreliable power company in the Washington DC metro area has been calling residents with a recorded warning that there's a good chance of losing electricity because of the storm. When it goes off in this city it can last for days.
I lived in Johannesburg for years which has its fair share of power cuts but they've been more frequent and lasted longer in the part of Washington I live in because of summer storms or winter snows, lasting on one occasion last year for five days.
The company blames all the trees, saying they come crashing down in storms and bring the power lines down with them. Which raises an eternal question here about why they don't just bury them as in most cities. But then that would cost money.
8.57am ET: I've been asked who named Hurricane Irene. Seasoned storm-watches will raise their grizzled eyebrows and emit a knowing sigh, but for those wondering (like me), it's the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva. Here's the full list of projected names at the National Hurricane Center.
8.41am ET: Time for a graph: these are wind speed readings from the National Data Buoy Center's automated station near Cape Lookout, North Carolina.
Hurricane Irene wind speed reading from Cape Lookout, North Carolina Hurricane Irene wind speed reading from the National Data Buoy Center's automated station near Cape Lookout, North Carolina Photograph: NDBC It shows the readings rising consistently, then falling away suddenly as the eye of the storm hit.
Thanks to Jeffrey Collins on Twitter for spotting this.
8.14am ET: The National Hurricane Service is reporting winds of 85mph in coastal North Carolina, with Irene tracking north-northeast at a sluggish 14 mph.
8.09am ET: This just in: Brian Stelter's poncho has ripped. Thankfully, he has spares.
8.06am ET: As I mentioned earlier, the TV networks are giving this wall-to-wall coverage. TJ Holmes on CNN is repeatedly calling it a "monster storm", and everyone is desperately trying not to mention that it has been downgraded to a category one hurricane, the weakest category in the Saffir-Simoson hurricane scale.
National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read provides a live update on Hurricane Irene Keeping it real: National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read provides a live update on Hurricane Irene to New York City television viewers The politicians are falling over themselves to be seen to be doing something. The president, Barack Obama, called it a "historic" hurricane yesterday and has returned to the White House a day early from his vacation at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. He is desperate to avoid the mistakes of George Bush, who was slow to act over Hurricane Katrina.
Here in New York, mayor Bloomberg was slammed over his slow response to the big snow dump last year. City Hall is at the end of my street – they've been up all night there, co-ordinating the response to this.
Hurricane Irene is political, as well as meteorological.
Hurricane Irene hits the pier at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Rodanthe Hurricane Irene hits the pier at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Rodanthe, North Carolina August 27, 2011.
7.34am ET: Hurricane Irene is making landfall now at Cape Lookout, North Carolina. It has become the first hurricane to hit the US mainland since 2008.
7.20am ET: The joke yesterday was that the first wall to fall victim to the hurricane was the New York Times paywall. The NYT announced that it is to drop subscription charges around its hurricane coverage as a "public service". Reaction was mixed, from those welcoming the move to others lambasting it as a missed opportunity for a media company mired in debt. (Other media companies mired in debt are available.)
I have no opinion of course, other than to say that their excellent coverage is here, and their indefatigable media (and occasional natural disaster) reporter Brian Stelter is tweeting furiously from the Comfort Inn at Nags Head on the outer banks of North Carolina.
7.01am ET: Progress Energy has just updated its total of customers without power in the Carolinas to 160,000.
6.55am ET: In the comments, AlexCovic mentions hysterical media coverage. It's certainly true that the TV networks especially are going nuts. You can almost here the disappointment in reporters' voices as they relay the news that Irene has been downgraded.
That's not to diminish its effects, though. I agree with one of my colleagues here who said there'll be a "big mess" in New York on Sunday and early next week. The subway system and tunnels linking Manhattan with Brooklyn and New Jersey are very vulnerable to flooding.
I'll be keeping it calm here at the Guardian, of course. Until the windows in my apartment blow in, that is. Then I'll get as hysterical as you like.
6.49am ET: Big preparations are being made for Irene in New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who faced criticism for his handling of heavy snow in the city at the end of last year, is determined not to be caught out again. The city's creaking subway system is to close, with a shutdown starting at noon. The buses and rail systems will also stop running.
Sandbags in downtown Manhattan New York prepeares for Irene - Sandbags on the streets of downtown Manhattan to control possible flooding. Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters For the first time ever, parts of the city have been served with a mandatory evacuation order. This affects low-lying areas of Manhattan, including one area just three blocks from where I am – plus parts of Brooklyn and all the Rockaways (a Long Island peninsula that falls within the New York city limits).
Hospitals and senior homes in the areas are being evacuated. But this doesn't mean people are legally obliged to leave, just that at the height of the storm, rescue services won't necessarily come to help.
6.44am ET: There have been some minor reports of damage so far. The end of the pier at Atlantic Beach pier at Atlantic Beach in North Carolina has just fallen into the sea, according to TV news crews there. Progress Energy, which supplies electricity in the Carolinas, is reporting that 120,000 people are without power, while Virginia-based Dominion power says 14,000 of its customers are affected.
6.30am ET: Welcome to our live coverage of Hurricane Irene as it tracks up the eastern coast of the United States and heads for New York. We'll be liveblogging until the power fails, and hopefully longer. I'm Matt Wells in New York and my colleagues around the city and in Washington DC will be contributing to our coverage.
Here's a summary of where we are now:
Live blog: recap Hurricane Irene is about to hit North Carolina. Winds of around 90mph are already thrashing the shoreline. Irene has been downgraded to a category 1 hurricane, but there is still a significant risk of structural damage and flooding to the areas it hits. More than two million people along the east coast of the United States have been told to move inland. There are reports of structural damage in Beaufort and Tyrrell counties in North Carolina. Landfall of the first hurricane to hit the mainland since 2008 is expected in the next half-hour.
• New York is braced for the worst as Irene threatens the city with its first hurricane in decades. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered the evacuation of low-lying areas and, for the first time ever, has shut the subway and bus systems from noon today. The storm is expected to make landfall on Long Island tomorrow.
President Barack Obama has returned to the White House in Washington, cutting short his holiday in Martha's Vineyard one day early. He has urged residents in affected areas to heed evacuation notices and hurricane warnings, and has signed a state of emergency declaration for New York. "Don't wait, don't delay," he said.
• Amtrak has cancelled all train services in the northeastern corridor. More than 7,000 flights have been cancelled.

Hurricane Irene: panorama of New York skyline
A panorama of New York's skyline taken as Hurricane Irene approaches. Photograph: KeystoneUSA-Zuma/Rex Features
1.30am ET: Here's a summary of developments as Hurricane Irene heads towards New York City. The National Weather Center is describing it as a "large tropical cyclone" with "hurricane-force winds".
Live blog: recap • New York is braced for a day of damaging winds, tornadoes and flooding as Irene hits the city on Sunday morning. The mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has told New Yorkers to stay indoors on Sunday. There has already been some minor street flooding in low-lying areas of Lower Manhattan. The worst of the weather will hit from 6am to noon. Two kayakers were rescured from off the shoreline of Manhattan.
• Irene is lashing the eastern coasts of Virginia and Maryland with storm-force winds. There have been six confirmed deaths related to the storm. An 11-year-old boy in Virginia killed when a tree crashed through his roof and a North Carolina child who died in a crash at an intersection where traffic lights were out. In addition, a North Carolina man was killed by a flying tree limb, a passenger died when a tree fell on in a car in Virginia, and a surfer and another beachgoer in Florida were killed in heavy waves.
About 1.5 million households in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and DC are without electricity. The mayor of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania has warned citizens that outages could last for days, even weeks. As Irene heads north, that number is likely to grow.
Transport has ground to a virtual halt on the east coast. Some 9,000 flights have been cancelled from affected airports. In New York, all public transport has closed down until Monday. Authorities in Boston have announced the closedown of trains, buses and rail from 8am.
From now, updates will be less frequent, with a full service resuming in a few hours.
12.30am ET: North of us here in New York, the transit authorities in Boston have decided to shut the entire system from 8am. There will be no rail, bus or subway services after that time. The MBTA said it had made the decision after a "careful review" of the most recent information from the National Weather Service.
12.15am ET: This is the latest satellite animation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It shows Irene tracking up the northeast coast of the US.

11.38pm ET: AP says the death toll so far in the US is six: an 11-year-old boy in Virginia killed when a tree crashed through his roof and a North Carolina child who died in a crash at an intersection where traffic lights were out. In addition, a North Carolina man was killed by a flying tree limb, a passenger died when a tree fell on in a car in Virginia, and a surfer and another beachgoer in Florida were killed in heavy waves.
At least three people died when Irene hit the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico earlier this week.
11.32pm ET: Back to Ewen Macaskill in Washington, who has been out on a second tour of the streets (stopping off for another beer).
Ewen MacAskil Just got home after a second tour round DC. It is 10.10 pm, supposedly when the weather was to be at its worst in DC, but still no sign of a hurricane. It is wet but buses seem to be running as normal and plenty of taxis. The streets are quieter than usual because rain and some places, like the ice-cream shop, which would not have done much business anyway, have closed up. But there are plenty of bars and restaurants open.
There are a lot of trees lining the streets of Georgetown and I remember a storm a few years back when branches came down crushing cars: it took DC a week to clear some streets. Nothing like that so far: only saw one branch down that would have brained someone if they had been passing at the time.
I stopped off in my favourite Georgetown bar, Billy Martin's, for a pint of Guinness, and it was packed as it usually is on a Saturday night: all tables taken and all seats at the bar. Televisions tuned to the news for the hurricane, but those at the bar were unconcerned, at least as far as DC is concerned. But there were expressions of worry about it possibly "slamming into New York".
Ewen's colleague in Washington, Suzanne Goldenberg, has a similar story: "It is certainly very wet, with rainwater coursing down the street, and there is bound to be flooding in some neighbourhoods, but no real strong gusts of wind yet. The city has felt a little quiet all day, but there are still cars in the road."
11.18pm ET: The 11pm update from the National Hurricane Center reports a storm surge of 4ft so far in Chesapeake Bay, and of about 5ft at Oregon Inlet in North Carolina. It describes Irene as a "large tropical cyclone".
Hurricane-force winds are located over a relatively small area roughtly 125 miles (205km) to the east of the center. Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 240 miles (340km) from the center.
It warns of rainfall of between six and 12 inches from eastern North Carolina northward into eastern New York and inland in New England.
These rains, combined with heavy rains over the past few weeks, could cause widespread flooding, life-threatening flash floods, and significant uprooting of trees due to rain-softened grounds.
11.16pm ET: We've focused a bit on New York – probably because that's where the big story will be tomorrow – but as shenanigans09 points out in the comments, the storm isn't here yet. Right now it's hitting Delaware, the eastern shore of Maryland and parts of Virginia.
There are several reports of tornadoes in Delaware. CNN reports that Kent general hospital in Dover, Delaware is being flooded, and staff are attempting to pump out the water – there are patients sill inside and they are battling to keep the electricity on.
10.57pm ET: A note on the death toll. I said earlier (9.52pm) that there was confusion about whether it was five or eight. I think I've resolved the confusion. It's five in the US, and at least three more earlier in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile here's the full video of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's statement.
His office is pretty swift at putting these tapes on Youtube.
10.47pm ET: The mayor is asked, curiously, about whether he's heard reports of cab drivers hiking prices or store owners overcharging for bread. He says he doesn't expect it to be happening. "That's just not the New York way," he says. That was also the line he used in an earlier briefing when asked about the potential for looting.
10.36pm ET: He's also asked about why Rikers Island wasn't evacuated. He says that though it's in the evacuation zone A, it's higher than other places in that zone. Will he come to regret that statement?
10.35pm ET: Bloomberg says New York will get through the storm.
New York is the greatest city in the world, we will weather this storm. It don't think it matters if you're in a shelter tonight, or in your home, or staying with friends or family. We are all together in this. This emergency is bringing out the best in New Yorkers.
The mayor says people should stay indoors tomorrow.
Tomorrow morning, when you wake up, whatever the conditions are , please stay inside. Too many things get blown around. Whether it's tree limbs coming down or porch furniture blown away, it's just not safe to be outside. It's cute to say 'I was outside during the storm'. But you're much better off staying inside and looking out.
10.30pm ET: Bloomberg says two kayakers were rescured from off the shoreline of Lower Manhattan. They were given summonses, he says. It was one of those "reckless acts" that diverted "badly needed" NYPD resources, he says. "Why they were out there, despite the warnings, I don't know."
10.29pm ET: He advises people to get away from windows because of the risk of debris. The risk rises above the 10th floor, he says. Stay out of glass lobbies, turn off propane tanks, and move to a room where there are as few windows as possible.
10.26pm ET: Mayor Bloomberg has emerged and is now speaking from City Hall, just down the street from where I am now. He confirms that a tornado watch is in force until 5am, "just to complicate matters".
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. But we will get through this next 24 hours, I assure you.
Hurricane Irene: evacuation centre in NY Police officers stand guard outside Seward Park high school, a desginated evacuation center for those forced to evacuate by hurricane Irene. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
10.22pm ET: In what may turn out not to be quite such the best timing, James Poland brought his girlfriend, Paula, from Ireland to New York to propose to her. She said yes, thankfully.
He emails to say: "We are now in our hotel with loads of beer and munchies having a hurricane party. Its like a pissing rain day in Dublin but Times Square seems to be preparing for the apocalypse."
10.07pm ET: We're were due an update from the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, at 9.30pm ET, but he's more than half an hour late now. Shoulda kept the subway open a bit later, Mikey! Meanwhile lightening has just flashed over NYC. Irene is on her way.
9.52pm ET: I quoted CNN earlier saying that eight people had died because of Irene. But the latest roundup from Associated Press sticks with the earlier reported five deaths.
The deaths included two children, an 11-year-old boy in Virginia killed when a tree crashed through his roof and a North Carolina child who died in a crash at an intersection where traffic lights were out. In addition, a North Carolina man was killed by a flying tree limb, a passenger died when a tree fell on in a car in Virginia, and a surfer in Florida was killed in heavy waves.
9.37pm ET: From the comments below the line, a good even-handed post from a reader in Staten Island, worth reprinting in full, I think:
Live blog: comment Since two years, I live at South Beach, Staten Island, looking out over New York's Lower Bay. I know something about the tides and currents in the bay. The day after tomorrow it is new moon; around full and new moon, tides are extra high and extra low. Tomorrow morning around 08:00 h local time, it will be high tide (combined with nearly spring tide).
Around the same time, Irene is approaching the Lower Bay, preceded by a stormy easterly, probably pushing the tide even more up and into the bay. I expect the combination of a high nearly spring tide and Irene's storm surge effect can indeed cause some serious flooding in low lying areas.
Then again, New Yorkers just are obsessed with threats and safety precautions. Early this evening, with Irene's arrival still more than 12 hours away, with a light breeze and a bit of drizzle, the police was already turning people away from making a stroll along the beach. An utterly useless waste of time and manpower and a needless harassment of peoples' liberties. This sort of paranoia for whatever kind of danger, seems to have become the norm, ten years after 9/11.
9.14pm ET: So what's the mood in New York? I think it's turning. It's all quiet here in Tribeca. Some of the bars are open but there aren't many customers about, and the rain is pelting down. I think people are starting to realise that despite all the jokes today, this could be serious.
Up from me in the West Village, according to Wilferooster on Twitter: "Not much worry about it from bars in the village, plenty staying open." He adds in another tweet: "Certainly the bars opposite Blue Note & those over a few blocks west are open & full."
Over on the Upper West Side, Rachel Nuttall is "hunkered down with PG Tips and hobnobs" with "clouds ominously circling The Time Warner towers".
On Long Island, Jeff DelViscio says: "Irene not kidding around anymore on Long Island's north shore. Rain in sheets. Hydraulic steps forming in runoff on my street."
Amy Davidson, an editor at the New Yorker, has been spooked by the closure of the New York subway today. She asks: "Is there a scientific name for anxiety caused by lack of access to subways?"
Hurricane Irene: taxi on 42nd Street A taxi speeds by on 42nd Street at Times Square in New York as rains fall before hurricane Irene hits. Photograph: Peter Jones/Reuters
9.07pm ET : My colleague Stuart Millar has been listening to the latest podcast from the National Hurricane Center, which says Irene is currently just offshore from eastern Virginia. It will move up the coast overnight and Sunday morning before making final landfall in southern New England on Sunday afternoon.
Stuart reports:
The NHC said there was already lots of rain falling, with the heaviest to the west of centre of storm. Rainfall totals of 6-12 inches are predicted, though some areas may get up to 20 inches.
Strong winds are coming ashore towards the centre of the storm, and these winds are going to drive storm surge of 4-8 feet. In some areas, astronomical high tides, caused by the new moon, will make the impact worse.
Concerns are focused on the Norfolk, Virginia area. Southern Chesapeake is already experiencing near record rises of water, the NHC said. There are also concerns for Delaware Bay, coastal New Jersey, New York harbour and Long Island Sound.
Maximum winds are currently near 80mph, and the NHS predicted the storm would weaken slowly over the next 12-24 hours before rapid weakening as it passes over land. But hurricane or near-hurricane conditions will be felt all the way up east coast from Virginia to southern New England.
9.03pm ET: The National Weather Service has put New York on a Tornado watch. The conditions are "particularly favorable" for tornadoes to form in the area, it said.
8.51pm ET: My colleague Karen McVeigh visited an evacuation hall in Brooklyn earlier on. She noted that there was plenty of space and found one resident who reported that many of her neighbours were staying put.
Outside an evacuation centre in south Brooklyn, near her home in the waterside neighbourhood of Red Hook, Niyelle Manley said that a third of her neighbours were preparing to ride out the storm at home.
"We warned a lot of them but I guess they took it as a joke" she said. Manley, who arrived at the centre with her wheelchair-bound mother, Patricia and her two-month-old daughter, Kallyah, lives in the projects on the first floor of a block near the pier. She talked her mother into leaving, she said, but had no luck persuading seven or eight families out of 20 in her block who remained.
You can read her full roundup here.
8.42pm: This interactive map from the power company ConEd shows where the latest power outages are occurring in New York.
Hurricane Irene: Grand Central Terminal, New York Pedestrians walk past Grand Central Terminal, New York, closed in advance of hurricane Irene. Photograph: Mike Groll/AP
8.40pm ET: There's quite a debate going on in the comments below the line between those people who think Hurricane Irene won't have much of an effect and the media is overhyping it, and those who think that it's prudent to take precautions and that the potential for harm is great.
And it's not just divided between people from outside the eastern US and those who are here: many Americans – and in particular New Yorkers – think the media coverage and the political reaction has been over-the-top.
The reaction of plumbtastic13 is not untypical:
This is a joke. To all that are genuinely concerned please don't be. This kind of media coverage is a constant here in the states. I am on the east coast in Jersey and some folks are scared but only because the NEWS makes them feel that way.
But Renee12 says she's in an evacuation shelter in Brooklyn and has this disappointed response to those who have, in rather shrill tones, condemned the reaction of some.
Hi all. I am right now sitting in an evacuation center in NYC. I live in the Rockaways. Right there on the ocean ... I'm so sorry that the total catastophe that would have warrented media attention in your eyes hasn't happened...yet. Well, keep tuned. Perhaps the situation will become more dire.
And then there's this from huntedmom in Philadelphia.
I'm not rich, just a single parent trying to survive in a bad economy. I don't have homeowners insurance because I can't afford it and also feed my children. Unfortunately, if I sustain damage to my home, I'm one American who won't be recovering quite as quickly as has been predicted.
8.29pm ET: CNN reports that eight people have now lost their lives since Hurricane Irene made landfall in North Carolina earlier today.
8.20pm: According to the National Hurricane Center, Irene has re-emerged over the Atlantic. It is warning that waters are rising in the Virginia tidewater region.
8.01pm ET: While I took a break from the liveblogging hotseat earlier, I went out for a walk around Tribeca, where I live, and down to the shore of the Hudson.
Night has fallen now, and the rain is lashing down. But a few hours ago, you can see from this video – usually teeming with ferries and other craft – that the river was as calm as a millpond.
7.44pm ET: More on the growing concern over the New York mayor's attitude to Rikers Island. At a press conference earlier, he breezily dismissed a reporter's question about why the 17,000 prisoners on the island were not being evacuated, despite being in the evacuation zone.
Tonight, City Hall has put out a more reasoned explanation of why the inmates on Rikers are staying put. "Rikers Island does not touch the Atlantic Ocean and, like Manhattan Island, Roosevelt Island and City Island, it does not need to be evacuated, according to a spokeman for the mayor's office told the Wall Street Journal.
7.40pm ET: While we gear up for a big night in New York, Irene will pass by the US capital, Washington, first. The Weather Channel is forecasting hurricane-force winds heading for Washington and Baltimore now.
Ewen Macaskill, our chief Washington correspondent, another Scot on the Guardian US team, has just been out for a walk around the streets. He reports:
Ewen MacAskil It is wet but no worse than typical day in Glasgow, it definitely does not feel anything like a hurricane. But it is supposed to get worse in the next hour or so. I called into my local, which had plenty of people in it, but it was just closing up: I suppose the staff want to go home early, given the forecast. Many people have opted to stay at home. Having said that, there are lots of cars on the road and many of people wandering about the city.
7.00pm ET: Good evening and welcome to our continuing coverage of hurricane Irene's track up the Atlantic coast of the United States, with New York braced for a night of heavy winds and potentially damaging storm surges.
This is Matt Wells live blogging from Lower Manhattan – right in the middle of the area where the storm surges are expected to hit. Fortunately, I'm nine floors up.
You can catch up with our earlier coverage here.
Here's a summary of events so far.
Live blog: recap At least five fatalities have now been attributed to the storm. Three of these deaths were caused, directly or indirectly, by trees felled by high winds. In Florida, a surfer was killed while attempting to take advantage of the hurricane-powered waves.
Approximately 1 million Americans – in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and DC – are without electricity. The mayor of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania has warned citizens that outages could last for days, even weeks. As Irene heads north, that number is likely to grow.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate coastal and low-lying areas along the eastern seaboard. As many as 1 million people have left the Jersey shore. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has warned that "we are going to break down doors if we have to" to enforce the evacuation.
Transport has ground to a virtual halt on the east coast. Some 9,000 flights have been cancelled from affected airports. In New York, all public transport has closed down until Monday.
Despite Irene losing force, downgraded to category 1, storm surges and heavy rains are creating danger of widespread flooding. In northern New England, Vermont's governor has declared a state of emergency, with flooding predicted in every river in the state.

Hurricane Irene batters Southampton on Long Island, on Sunday 28 August
Hurricane Irene batters Southampton on Long Island, on Sunday 28 August. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
9.30am ET: News of a 10th death attributed to Irene, with the LA Times reporting that a man died in a fire started by downed power lines in Connecticut.
The National Hurricane Centre's latest suggests that Irene is losing force. Reuters reports that it has now been downgraded to tropical storm status from category 1 hurricane.
Meanwhile, local media are saying that Irene made landfall at Coney Island at about 9.30am ET, with 65mph winds. Boston and points north will still be braced for high winds in addition to the heavy rain.
As predicted, the number of people without power is climbing all the time. The Houston Chronicle now believes the total is 4 million, although one suspects they may have been keener to call it at that landmark number before showing their working.
Hurricane Irene view under Brooklyn Bridge in New York Lower Manhattan on Sunday morning, at Brooklyn Bridge. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP Photo
8.53am ET: Our guy Paul Harris (@paulxharris) has been out and about in downtown Manhattan, and just sent this bulletin:
The East Village, around 1st Avenue and 7th Street, certainly seems to bear up the idea that as far as wind speeds go Manhattan is being spared the sort of disaster people feared. Outside, it's currently very rainy with howling gusts of wind but there is little damage visible.
A few fairly large tree branches lie in the street but the local deli corner shop is still open. There was even a man taking his dog for a quick morning walk wearing a T-shirt and carrying a sturdy-looking umbrella.
But this area is a long way from the East River and the main threat to the city is the storm surge. No sign of flooding here at all. But that is to be expected. The main areas vulnerable to the storm surge lie to the south and east along the rivers.
We'll be watching that situation carefully and keeping you posted.
8.45am ET: We're expecting a Fema press conference at 11.30am ET from Washington, DC, with Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and Fema's Craig Fugate, to update the nation on the federal response to Hurricane Irene; we'll be covering that later.
WNYC reports that the East River is cresting its banks in lower Manhattan. Meanwhile my colleague New York business correspondent Dominic Rushe tweets that on West Broadway, in Soho (downtown Manhattan), water is reversing out of the grates and manholes and causing flooding there.
But media commentator and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff seems undaunted; he just tweeted:
Just went out for the paper
Hope he has a plastic bag for that – if he can find a copy to buy and a shop to sell it to him.
Progress of Irene can be followed via this interactive graphic.
Chris Christie
8.15am ET: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tweets his interview on the Today Show. He reports that 15,000 people in New Jersey have taken up residence in the state's evacuation centres, while Today shows images of a grey, choppy Hudson River off Hoboken, across the water from Manhattan. Says the governor:
We've got record flooding in New Jersey. It's already happening … Inland flooding is at record levels. We've got people trying to leave their homes and we're getting distress calls from people in their cars being swept away by the water.
He urges citizens of New Jersey to stay safe in their homes. He is asked about the nuclear power generator at Oyster Creek, NJ, which was shut down at 5pm Saturday. Christie says this was for "an abundance of caution" and there is "no concern at all" about the status of that power plant.
He confirms that 400,000 people in New Jersey are now without power.
I'm failing to embed that video here presently, but you can view it on YouTube.
Hurricane Irene: evacuation centre in NY Police officers stand guard outside an evacuation centre for Hurricane Irene. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
7.41am ET: It's now light in New York City, or as light as it's going to get today. It's raining in Manhattan, but not torrentially right now; and the wind has abated. But that seems very likely to change as the storm system rotates, and the eye of the hurricane passes close to the city in the next few hours.
Via WNYC's Twitter feed, a public radio listener has posted this picture of the water rising in lower Manhattan in view of Brooklyn Bridge.
According to NBC New York, fire fighters have been answering scores of calls during the night for utility polls, trees and power lines downed in Queens. ConEd (New York City's main power company) is now reporting 75,000 customers without power.
CNN is reporting that late Saturday night, a nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs, Maryland shut down automatically due to hurricane-force winds.
"The facility is safe; there is no impact to employees or our neighbors," [Mark] Sullivan [spokesman for the Constellation Energy Nuclear Group] said. "There is no threat."
The company has not updated its news feed yet, so no word on whether that reactor has powered back up at this point.
7.21am ET: My colleague Oliver Burkeman tweets that FoxNews has run a splendidly mistimed – or very well timed, depending on your point of view – opinion piece about what an outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars the National Weather Service is:
The truth is that the National Hurricane Center and its parent agency, the National Weather Service, are relics from America's past that have actually outlived their usefulness.
I think a few tens of millions of Americans might beg to differ, just now.
Oliver normally resides in Brooklyn, but tells me he is safe and dry in York. That's old York, UK.
7.10am ET: Latest tracking of the hurricane predicts that it will make landfall again at about 10am east of New York City, on western Long Island. That would be Nassau County, east of Queens, which happens to be one of the wealthiest counties in the United States – though, paradoxically, one hit by budget crisis. Earlier this year, the state government had to take control of the county's finances after it had essentially gone bust and its own officials could not agree a balanced budget.
New York City Hurricane Irene evacuation map A detail from the New York City Hurricane Irene evacuation map (the full version can viewed as a pdf).
6.39am ET: No update yet from the Mayor's office or New York City government that I've seen, but no doubt the hyperactive Michael Bloomberg will be doing further pressers at some point Sunday. On Saturday, he told us that there was capacity for 70,000 people in evacuation centres. So far, the uptake has been modest: about 9,000 people have been spending the night in these centres, dotted throughout the metro area. To see their location, and the pattern of the evacuation zones, view this map (pdf).
6.18am ET: According to WNYC, New York's public radio station, the storm surge has pushed the sea level up about 4ft above normal down at the Battery, which is at the southern tip of Manhattan in the New York harbour area. We're still a couple of hours away from high tide, which is due to be higher than normal in any case, thanks to a new moon.
It will be touch and go as to whether there is flooding around Wall Street – much may depend on the wind direction at the critical time, as I was hearing on WNYC last night: in the huge rotating weather system that is a tropical storm, you get winds in opposite directions in different areas. So, apparently, storm surges depend on whether the wind aligns with tidal flows in a given area. But I'll be looking for more expert metereological opinion on this.
Manhattan view before Hurricane Irene's arrival A view of Manhattan before Hurricane Irene's arrival. Photograph: Karly Domb Sadof/AP Photo
6.03am ET: I'm working just a block or two from where this photograph was taken last night: a view up 34th Street, looking east, towards the Empire State Building. The rain is still pretty intense outside in Manhattan right now, although the rainfall radar here suggests that the heaviest precipitation is now across a huge area of New England. The hurricane just made landfall on the New Jersey coast a little while ago, still some way to the south and east of New York City. It's due through here at about 10am ET.
5.42am ET: An overnight summary, as Hurricane Irene moved through the United States' Atlantic coast and the eye of the storm is due to hit New York this morning with heavy rain, hurricane-force winds and a storm surge:
• Overnight, the death toll has risen to at least nine. Five people were killed in North Carolina; three more died in Virginia, including an 11-year-old boy whose home was hit by a falling tree.
• Hurricane Irene is moving north at 18mph, still a category 1 hurricane, with sustained winds of 75mph recorded.
• Nearly 3 million people are without power as the hurricane moves up the eastern seaboard. About 180,000 on Long Island are affected by electrical outages, with 30,000 people in New York City already without power.In neighbouring New Jersey, as many as 330,000 have had power cuts.
• More than 300,000 people have been evacuated from 'zone A' vulnerable areas in New York City. High tide at 8am in New York harbour coincides with the height of the storm, creating the risk of widespread flooding in low-lying areas.
• Lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, is threatened by storm surge flooding. Power company ConEd has said it will cut power pre-emptively if the flooding looks likely, possibly leaving the financial district without power going into Monday.
5.20am ET: Welcome back to our live coverage of Hurricane Irene's progress, as the eye of the storm is expected to pass through New York City in the next few hours, and move north towards New England.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/aug/28/hurricane-irene-new-york-live-coverage1

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