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Irene Lashes North Carolina, Threatens New York, New England

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

Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 storm with 85-mile-an-hour winds, flooded streets and damaged buildings in North Carolina as it began to move up the East Coast toward landfall in New York.

Evacuations are under way in Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Long Island’s Nassau County and Rhode Island, all places where there is a 30 percent to 60 percent chance of a coastal storm surge of at least 3 feet, according to a National Hurricane Center projection. Irene’s winds may begin to batter New York late today.

“We may start to see some rain from this storm by this afternoon and the winds will start to pick up with some tropical storm strength gusts around midnight,” said David Stark, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, New York. “By about 6 a.m. tomorrow, it looks like it will be off the Jersey coast and we still think it is going to be a Category 1 hurricane.”

Irene may become the most powerful storm to strike New York since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. The storm may inflict $6.5 billion in overall economic losses on the U.S. before it is absorbed in other weather systems somewhere over Canada or the Atlantic early next week, according to estimates by Kinetic Analysis Corp. Gloria was between categories 1 and 2 when it made landfall.

Costly Year

If Irene’s losses exceed $1 billion, it will be the 10th such costly natural disaster in the U.S. this year, a record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The U.S. has suffered $35 billion in losses due to nine separate events so far in 2011, according to NOAA.

CoreLogic Inc. estimates at least $35 billion in damage to residential property in New York and Long Island if Irene hits those areas at Category 1 strength with winds of 74 mph or more. At least 80,861 properties on Long Island and in New York City may be at risk, according to the Santa Ana, California-based analytics company.

At least three deaths in North Carolina were linked to the storm, authorities said. The Associated Press said an 11-year-old boy was killed by a tree that fell into his apartment building in Newport News, Virginia.

Emergencies Declared

President Barack Obama declared emergencies for North Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, while New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the first mandatory evacuation in the city’s history. The last hurricane to prompt a warning in New York was 1985’s Gloria, the hurricane center said.

In North Carolina, 10 major roads were flooded after Irene made landfall near Cape Lookout, on the Outer Banks. Irene has weakened from a Category 3 storm with 120-mph winds, and North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said the storm wasn’t as powerful as first expected.

The storm still needs to be respected, said Tom Kines, senior expert meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

“If a thunderstorm rolls through with 50- to 60-mile-per-hour winds, we know what kind of damage that can do,” Kines said by telephone today. “It can knock a tree over or damage a house and that is just a gust. Imagine what it can do over more of a prolonged period?”

No one should discount the storm “just because they’re not getting 100-mile-per-hour winds,” Kines said.

Wind Outlook

Stark said hurricane-force winds and gusts of at least 74 mph are likely to spread across New York and Long Island early tomorrow. The storm will pick up forward speed as it moves north, and the weather may actually clear by late tomorrow.

Aside from the wind and the storm surge, Stark said people in Irene’s path need to be careful of flooding caused by as much as 6 to 12 inches of rain.

Flood and flash-flood watches are in effect from North Carolina to Maine, according to the weather service. Tornado watches are also posted along much of the coast.

As of 2 p.m., Irene was 45 miles west-northwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving north-northeast at 13 mph, according to the hurricane center.

Power was out to 730,000 customers in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, according to regional power companies.

Remains Hurricane

While Irene should weaken as it moves up the coast, “the cyclone is expected to remain a hurricane with a very large wind field until after landfall in New England,” the center said in an advisory.

The Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey closed its five airports to all arriving passenger flights beginning at noon today.

Governor Chris Christie ordered all rail service in New Jersey suspended as of noon today. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the Metropolitan Transit Authority would close New York’s subways, buses and trains at noon, the same time the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was to suspend all PATH services, according to a statement.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said Entergy’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth and the Sagamore and Bourne bridges, the only roadway connections to Cape Cod, probably will close tomorrow as Hurricane Irene brings sustained winds of 70 to 90 miles an hour to eastern and central Massachusetts.

Manhattan Power

Consolidated Edison said it will decide early tomorrow whether to cut power to part of Lower Manhattan because of possible flooding while Hurricane Irene lashes the city.

The area that may be affected is south of the Brooklyn Bridge, to Broadway, John Miksad, the company’s senior vice president of electric operations, said in a conference call with reporters.

On Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, Bloomingdale’s boarded up window displays. New York firefighters helped 7,000 nursing home and hospital patients evacuate, Mayor Bloomberg said. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.

Hurricane warnings are posted from Little River Inlet, North Carolina, to Sagamore Beach in Massachusetts, including New York City, according to the hurricane center. Tropical storm warnings are in effect from Sagamore Beach to Eastport, Maine, according to the weather service.

Wind and rain warnings were issued for parts of Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, according to Environment Canada.

Irene’s hurricane-strength winds stretch 90 miles from its center, about the distance from Philadelphia to New York. Tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph extend 260 miles from the core.

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