Deadly Irene Cuts Power to 1 Million as New York Braces

Floodwaters Rise in North Carolina
Floodwaters lap at the foundation of a house along Calico Creek in North Carolina, on August 27, 2011. Photographer: Travis Long/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images

At least nine people died, North Carolina’s Outer Banks flooded and more than 1 million homes and businesses were without power after Hurricane Irene started on its collision course with New York today.

States as far north as Maine are evacuating residents and preparing for outages from the hurricane, with tropical storm-force winds extending outward from the center as much as 290 miles (465 kilometers), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Residents in the New York metropolitan area and beyond were forced to stay close to home as trains and subways stopped.

Firefighters in Chocowinity, North Carolina, could hardly walk as they battled winds of 60 miles per hour to rescue people from homes whose roofs had been blown off.

“Everybody’s talking New York City, New York City, and they forgot about North Carolina,” Fire Chief Tommy Pendley said in an interview. “I’ll tell you, if New York City gets this, they’re screwed.”

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell said the storm may push waters up by as much as eight feet as it rolls through at high tide this evening, and the flooding is “going to be significant.” A hundred roads have been closed, as well as tunnels in the southeast part of the state, and cities including Newport News have established curfews, McDonnell said in a conference call with reporters at 8 p.m. yesterday.

The governor spoke of numerous houses and cars crushed by trees, though the extent won’t be known until today.

“This is a very dangerous time,” McDonnell said.

Deadly Cyclone

There were at least five storm-related fatalities in North Carolina, with three more in Virginia and one in Maryland. In North Carolina, a woman was killed when a tree struck the car in which she was driving with her husband and child shortly after 5 p.m. in Sampson County, First Sgt. Tony Gibson of the State Highway Patrol said in a telephone interview. The husband and child survived, he said.

A 15-year-old Virginia girl vacationing at the beach was killed in a two-car accident in Wayne County shortly before 6 p.m. at an intersection that had lost power, Brad Deen, a spokesman at the state’s Joint Information Center, said by telephone.

Another North Carolina man was discovered in Pitt County in a vehicle that struck a tree, and a Nash County man was killed by a falling tree, Deen said. An Onslow County man also died of a heart attack Aug. 25 putting up plywood in preparation for Irene, he said.

Shattered Building

In Newport News, Virginia, an 11-year-old boy was killed shortly after noon when a tree crashed onto the two-story apartment complex where he was with his mother, Kim Lee, a city spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview. The mother escaped, and a crane was needed to lift the tree, she said.

Another man died in Brunswick County, Virginia, when a tree fell on his vehicle, Maribeth Brewster, a spokeswoman for the state’s Emergency Operations Center, said in a telephone interview. A Chesterfield County man also died yesterday when a tree fell on a house, Beth Singer, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Emergency Operations Center said in a telephone interview, as did a woman in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, after a tree hit a house there late yesterday, Danielle Lueking, a spokeswoman for the state’s Emergency Management Agency, said by telephone.

Shaken Virginia

Virginia and Washington-area residents are still collecting themselves after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake Aug. 23 centered in Virginia and now must deal with the hurricane.

The District of Columbia distributed about 5,000 sandbags at RFK Stadium to residents Aug. 26 until they were gone, according to the city’s website. The city handed out about 6,000 more before shutting down distribution at 3 p.m. yesterday after they ran out of sandbags.

Irene made landfall near Cape Lookout in North Carolina about 7:30 a.m. eastern time with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Flooding closed several major roads, breached wastewater treatment plants and felled trees throughout the eastern part of the state, Governor Bev Perdue said.

“There is widespread damage to property and infrastructure along the coast,” Perdue said during a 6 p.m. news briefing in Raleigh.

Outer Banks Scene

On the Outer Banks, winds approaching 90 mph pushed water west out of the Pamlico Sound, leaving boats stranded on the mud at Scott Boatyard in Buxton. The ocean washed over a highway in Rodanthe, making that section of road impassible.

About 10 groups were stranded in vehicles or homes in Pamlico County in coastal North Carolina, including people taking refuge in attics to escape rising water, said David Spruill, the county’s emergency services director.

At Atlantic Beach, about 15 miles from Cape Lookout, the end of the wooden pier at the Sheraton Hotel was washed away, with waves slamming into the remaining section.

Dominion Resources Inc., which covers parts of North Carolina and Virginia, said 773,552 of its customers had lost electricity as of 5:45 p.m., with the heaviest concentration of outages in the Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, areas. Three-quarters of its Richmond customers were without power, according to the company’s website.

Power Outages

Progress Energy Inc. reported about 247,000 customers had lost power in North and South Carolina. Duke Energy Corp. said about 11,250 of its customers in North Carolina were without electricity.

Some utilities farther north serving the Maryland, Washington and Delaware region, including Pepco Holdings Inc.’s Delmarva Power & Light and Constellation’s Baltimore Gas & Electric, were reporting outages rapidly climbing above 56,000 as the storm moved through.

Constellation Energy Group Inc. said the Unit 1 reactor at its Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station in Maryland has gone offline, while posing no threat to staff or the public.

“Due to heavy gusts of winds caused by Hurricane Irene, a large piece of aluminum siding dislodged from a building,” the company said in an e-mailed statement today. “The siding came into contact with our main transformer.”

Nuclear Shutdown

It declared an “unusual event,” which is the lowest of four emergency classifications. The facility’s Unit 2 is stable and operating normally, it said.

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast shows Irene’s core reaching southern New England today.

Cape Cod couple Ryan Mann and Adrian Green, scheduled to be married in a beach ceremony in the town of Harwich, Massachusetts yesterday, moved the event up to 12:30 p.m. from 4 p.m. That gave their 60 out-of-town guests time to get off the cape ahead of “our uninvited guest, Irene,” Mann, 29, said in a telephone interview.

More than 1 million people left the New Jersey shore in response to orders to evacuate, and 1,500 National Guard troops were deployed, Governor Chris Christie said at a news conference.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued a prepare-to-deploy order for 6,500 active duty troops from all the services to support hurricane relief efforts if ordered.

New York City opened shelters after ordering 370,000 residents to leave low-lying neighborhoods and began an unprecedented shutdown of all mass transit. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority halted buses, subways, and trains in five counties around Philadelphia. No Amtrak trains will operate in the Northeast today, the company said in a release.

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