Custom Search

Friday, August 26, 2011

Obama Leaving Martha's Vineyard, Returning To D.C., IRENE Approaches!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Obama: All signs show Irene will be 'historic' storm

As Hurricane Irene started lashing the Carolinas with rain Friday, President Barack Obama warned coastal residents to prepare for the worst, saying all indications point to Irene being a "historic" storm.

"Don't wait, don't delay," the president said from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where many were already leaving ahead of Irene.

Obama and his family had planned to leave the island on Saturday, but the White House on Friday said it had been moved up to this evening.

Irene not only is packing 105 mph winds, it is also massive: hurricane force winds extend 90 miles from the center, and tropical force winds extend 290 miles. Up to 15 inches of rain could be dumped across the East Coast by the time she barrels through.

With Irene bearing down, hundreds of thousands of people headed inland, made last-minute preparations and monitored its every subtle movement.

Irene had the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage all along a densely populated arc that includes Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and beyond. At least 65 million people are in its projected track.

"One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast coast," said Max Mayfield, a former National Hurricane Center director. "This is going to be a real challenge ... There's going to be millions of people affected."

Rain from Irene's outer bands began falling along the North and South Carolina coast early Friday. Swells and 6- to 9-foot waves were reported along the Outer Banks. Thousands had already lost power as the fringes of the storm began raking the shore and North Carolina was told to expect storm surges up to 11 feet.

The hurricane warning was extended into the Chesapeake Bay as far as Drum Point, and existing warnings remained in effect from North Carolina to New Jersey. A hurricane watch was in effect even farther north and included Long Island, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, Mass.

By late Friday morning, Irene remained a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph — 10 mph less than overnight.

Little change in strength was expected by the time the heart of the storm reaches the North Carolina coast on Saturday and the storm is no longer expected to regain Category 3 status, the National Hurricane Center said.

North Carolina and mid-Atlantic region

In the Tar Heel State, traffic was steady as people left the Outer Banks. Tourists were ordered to leave the barrier islands Thursday and many residents were following as ordered Friday.

At a gas station in Nags Head, Pete Reynolds said he wanted to make sure he had enough fuel for the long trip. The retired 68-year-old teacher spent part of Thursday getting his house ready for the hurricane. Now, he and his wife, Susan, were heading to the New Jersey area to stay with their son's family.

"We felt like we would be OK and we could ride out the storm," said Reynolds, who lives in Nags Head. "But when they announced mandatory evacuations, I knew it was serious."

Speaking Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said the state has mobilized officials and resources — including Highway Patrol troopers, the Red Cross and National Guardsmen — to deal with the storm's immediate aftermath.

"We're as ready as we can be at this time," she said.

As thousands fled beach towns, some farmers began pulling up their crops.

North Carolina farmer Wilson Daughtry has lost count of how many times his crops have been wiped out by storms that regularly blow up from the tropics.

"That's the price of living in paradise," he said of a fertile farm belt that's weathered an unusually hot and dry summer. Any deluge from Irene's rain bands could wipe out many crops just when they are ready for harvesting.

What's at stake in North Carolina? Latest figures show coastal North Carolina's fields earned nearly $6.3 billion in farm income in 2009 alone from its tobacco, corn and other crops.

The beach community of Ocean City, Md., was taking no chances, ordering thousands of people to leave.

"This is not a time to get out the camera and sit on the beach and take pictures of the waves," said Gov. Martin O'Malley.

In Washington, Irene postponed hopes of dedicating a 30-foot sculpture to the late Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall on Sunday. While a direct strike on the nation's capital appeared slim, organizers said the forecasts of wind and heavy rain made it too dangerous to summon a throng they initially expected to number up to 250,000 strong.

New York City

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were told Thursday to pack a bag and be prepared to move elsewhere.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered nursing homes and five hospitals in low-lying areas evacuated beginning Friday and said he would order 270,000 other people moved by Saturday if the storm stays on its current path.

"For the general public, it's a good idea to move Friday," Bloomberg said.

Evacuating hundreds of thousands of people would be particularly difficult in New York, where there are about 1.6 million people in Manhattan, many without cars. There are about 6.8 million in the city's other four boroughs.

Bloomberg advised residents on the southern tip of Manhattan and on Brooklyn's Coney Island to start moving items upstairs and to be ready to leave immediately. Apartment building managers emailed residents, telling them to close windows and expect power outages. Flyers were posted in building lobbies.

"If you have a car and you live in a low-lying area, my suggestion is to park on top of a hill, not in the valley," Bloomberg said. "It's those kinds of things. Take some precautions now, so that if it gets to that you'll have less to do."

Forecasters said passing near Manhattan could lead to a nightmare scenario: shattered glass falling from skyscrapers, flooded subways and seawater coursing through the streets.

Even if the winds aren't strong enough to damage buildings in a metropolis made largely of brick, concrete and steel, a lot of New York's subway system and other infrastructure is underground and subject to flooding in the event of an unusually strong storm surge or heavy rains, authorities noted.

New York City's two airports also are close to the water and could be inundated, as could densely packed neighborhoods, if the storm pushes ocean water into the city's waterways, officials said. The city had a brush with a tropical storm, Hanna, in 2008 that dumped 3 inches of rain in Manhattan.

In the last 200 years, New York has seen only a few significant hurricanes. In September of 1821, a hurricane raised tides by 13 feet in an hour and flooded all of Manhattan south of Canal Street, the southernmost tip of the city. The area now includes Wall Street and the World Trade Center memorial.

New Jersey

Aiming to speed up evacuations in coastal May County, Gov. Chris Christie Christie on Friday suspended tolls on all parts of the Garden State Parkway south of the Raritan River and the Atlantic City Expressway.

One of the popular casinos in Atlantic City had already closed Friday, and several others planned to shut down later in the day.


Few people were left along the coast of Virginia Beach, where officials ordered the mandatory evacuation of the city's Sandbridge section. Similar orders were issued for Accomack and portions of Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News.


Gov. Daniel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency and warned there could be prolonged power outages if Irene dumps up to a foot of rain on already saturated ground as some fear. He said emergency responders must be ready in event of any evacuations from heavily developed urban areas.

"We are a much more urban state than we were in 1938," he said, referring to the year that the so-called "Long Island Express" hurricane killed 600 people and caused major damage with 17-foot storm surges and high winds.

At Mystic Seaport, a popular "living history" museum that depicts 19th century New England seacoast life, staff members were hauling parts of the collections to higher ground. The museum will be closed on Saturday and Sunday as staffers load up sandbags.

"Our primary responsibility at this time is to protect our collection," said Mystic Seaport president Steve White. "So much of what we have here is irreplaceable and we need some time to make sure it will survive any kind of storm intact."


While some residents flocked to the supermarket for bottled water and nonperishable food, others rushed to the local hardware store.

"Our number of customers has tripled in the last day or two as people actually said 'wow, this thing is going to happen,'" said Jack Gurnon, owner of Charles Street Supply, a hardware store in Boston's wealthy Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Tape for windows, flashlights and batteries were flying off shelves, but Gurnon said people were worried about flooding and have been scooping up sump pumps, too.


While avoiding a direct hit, the state did see the first U.S. injuries from Irene when eight people were washed off a jetty in West Palm Beach on Thursday by a large wave churned up by the storm. All survived.

View Larger Map

Sources: AP, CNN, MSNBC, Youtube, Google Maps

No comments: