Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene pummels New York amid fears of flooding

he most ferocious storm to hit the US East Coast for years, Hurricane Irene, is bearing down on New York City, threatening major flooding.
Torrential rain is pounding the city, and there are fears a predicted surge of up to 8ft (2.4m) of water along the shoreline could breach flood defences.
The hurricane is packing winds up to 75mph (120km/h) and has been blamed for at least eight deaths in the US.
Irene has barrelled up the coast since making landfall on Saturday.
New York City's public transport system has been closed and the mayor said it was now too late for people to leave.
Irene came ashore for a second time, on Sunday, roaring across New Jersey.
The storm has weakened from a category-three hurricane when it swept through the Caribbean last week to category one but it is still expected to be destructive.
About three million people were left without power as the 500-mile-wide (800km) storm blew in.
The same number have moved out of the danger zone, most of them from New Jersey.

At the scene

The storm surge which comes just ahead of the full force of the hurricane itself is already being felt. At New York harbour, the water level has risen by nearly four feet and the police have taped off the area.
The full force of the storm surge is expected to be as much as about 8ft.
Despite the evacuation orders, I can see from the lights on in some of the apartment buildings that people just haven't heeded the city's warnings and they have stayed put.
But the city itself is incredibly eerie. This is a Sunday in August: normally Battery Park City would be bustling; normally there would be tourists everywhere taking in the views of the Statue of Liberty, but right now you can't even see Lady Liberty - even her famous torch has been obscured by Hurricane Irene.
At 05:40 (09:40 GMT) the hurricane came ashore at New Jersey, about 100 miles south of New York City, the National Hurricane Center reported.
Some 370,000 people living in low-lying areas of New York City had been told to leave, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned those who remained behind to stay put.
The fear is of a storm surge affecting New York's Hudson River, which could potentially inundate the flood defences of Lower Manhattan and cause flooding in the financial district there.
On Wall Street, sandbags have been placed around subway grates. Construction work has halted across the city.
Irene has already dumped more than 1ft (30cm) of rain on North Carolina and Virginia, and there are reports of storm surges of nearly 10ft.
The north-eastern seaboard is the most densely populated corridor in the US. More than 65 million people living in major cities from Washington DC in the south to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston further north.
Map, 28 August
Patricia Billinger of the American Red Cross told the BBC about 27,000 people have taken refuge in shelters along the coast, with 8,000 in New York itself.
States of emergency have been declared in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. New York's John F Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, and Newark in New Jersey, have shut, with the cancellation of at least 8,000 flights.
The hurricane has been blamed for the deaths of two children, as well as six other people killed by falling trees, road accidents and high waves, in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Florida.
A nuclear reactor in Maryland automatically went offline after a large piece of aluminium blown down by high winds came into contact with the plant's main transformer, prompting a low-level emergency.
Echoes of Katrina
President Barack Obama cut short his holiday to Martha's Vineyard to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the hurricane.
Homeless man during Hurricane Irene, Philadelphia (28 August)
City streets along the eastern seaboard are all but deserted
The BBC's David Willis in Washington says the president is very keen to avoid any criticism that surrounded the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina six years ago.
The president is at pains to point out that all the necessary federal agencies have been deployed on the ground, our correspondent says, and Mr Obama is looking to be seen to be on top of this over the next few hours and days.
The Pentagon has loaded 200 trucks with emergency supplies, and 100,000 National Guard troops are on standby.
Irene first made landfall at 08:00 on Saturday at Cape Lookout in North Carolina for what is expected to be a 36-hour assault on the US east coast.
Residents hoping to ride out the storm have stocked up on food, water and fuel.
"Thursday late night, I bought bottles of water after New Jersey declared a state of emergency. They were the last bottles of water on the shelves," Jay, from Manhattan, told the BBC.
"[There are] very heavy wind gusts. I live on the 33rd floor so gusts are powerful up here. The rain is coming down consistently hard," he said.

#Irene Twitter updates

"Last time I checked from my window, I only saw police cars on West 34th Street, which never happens. It's one of the busiest streets in Manhattan 24/7."
Supermarkets along the east coast were reportedly running out of supplies before the storm arrived.
"This is my first time witnessing anything like this," student Ryan Narcisse of Roselle, New Jersey, told the BBC. "The street was blanketed with a sheet of water...
"It is tense. It's amazing. The wind. We have to worry about power lines going down, which is a major issue. The New Jersey governor has 6,000 electricians ready to fix power lines but I don't think that's going to be enough given the damage that is bound to happen after the storm... We are not used to this at all on the east coast."
Hurricanes of this magnitude are rare along the US east coast - the last similar storms to strike the area were Hurricane Bob in 1991, and Hurricane Gloria, which caused extensive damage to New York City in 1985.
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