Hurricane Irene blasted ashore near Cape Lookout, North Carolina yesterday, a weakened but still massive category one storm that has sent tens of thousands of Americans fleeing for safety.
Irene packed sustained winds of 140kph as it made landfall near the southern end of a slender chain of barrier islands that ring the North Carolina Coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
Trees were uprooted, streets flooded and power was out for 90,000 people in eastern North Carolina even before the storm crossed land, state emergency officials said.
After North Carolina, the hurricane was forecast to churn up the eastern seaboard towards Washington, New York and Boston.
The densely populated corridor, home to more than 65 million people, was under threat of flooding, storm surges, power outages and destruction that experts said could cost up to US$12 billion.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered an unprecedented mass evacuation and the closure of the subway while US President Barack Obama cut short his summer vacation and returned to Washington.
Bloomberg told a news conference on Friday that he had ordered the first-ever mass evacuations from low-lying areas across the densely populated city, calling it a “matter of life or death.”
“We have never done a mandatory evacuation before, and we wouldn’t be doing this now if we didn’t think the storm had the potential to be very serious,” Bloomberg said.
All major New York area airports would close yesterday at noon, officials said.
New York state meanwhile said major links into the city would be cut if winds exceeded 100kph per hour, as predicted, and authorities called up 900 National Guard troops and 2,500 power workers to prepare for emergency repair work, the largest ever deployment.
Neighboring New Jersey on Thursday ordered 750,000 people out of the Cape May area.