Irene Threatens U.S. East Coast With $13.9 Billion in Damage

Hurricane Irene is forecast to turn north into the U.S. on a path similar to 1985’s Hurricane Gloria, threatening as much as $13.9 billion in insured losses and possibly forcing the evacuation of parts of New York City, officials and forecasters said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said a decision on evacuations would be made tomorrow for residents in areas including Coney Island, Battery Park City and parts of Staten Island.

Irene, a Category 3 major hurricane, is expected to grow larger as it moves toward North Carolina’s Outer Banks this weekend before crashing into the Northeast as early as Aug. 28, according to the National Hurricane Center track projection. The storm is 105 miles (169 kilometers) east-northeast of Nassau, the Bahamas.

“This track is eerily similar to Gloria,” said Chris Hyde, a meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “Millions are potentially going to be losing power from North Carolina all the way up to New England.”

Irene may cause $13.9 billion in insured losses and $20 billion in overall economic losses due to lost hours at work, power outages, interruption of shipping and airline traffic, according to estimates by Kinetic Analysis Corp.

Gloria killed 11 people, the hurricane center said. It caused $900 million in damage, said Weather Underground Inc.

Population Threat

More than 65 million people, or about one in five Americans, from North Carolina to Maine, are in the way of the hurricane, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

Mayor Bloomberg said at a press conference the city is expecting “winds of 60 mph or more” and the storm may be “possibly as strong as a Category 2 on Long Island.” The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared an emergency there and urged people to leave the shore by midday tomorrow. North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue declared a state of emergency for counties east of Interstate 95.

A Category 2 storm has winds of at least 96 mph, and poorly constructed homes are at risk for losing their roofs, high-rise windows can be broken and many shallow-rooted trees will be snapped off or pulled from the ground, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“No matter which way you slice it, there’s probably going to be hurricane-force winds in New York,” said Eric Wilhelm, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

Forecast Track

Small fluctuations in the track, which currently passes directly over Queens, could mean much greater damage to the city from storm surge, Wilhelm said.

Irene is expected to strengthen later today, the hurricane center said, and could become a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, bearing winds of at least 131 mph.

“The hurricane will affect millions and cost billions,” Wilhelm said. “This will be remembered as a Northeast hurricane and not a North Carolina hurricane.”

A hurricane watch is in force from Surf City, North Carolina, to the Virginia line, according to the center. A tropical storm watch is in effect from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Surf City. A watch means storm conditions are likely to begin in two days.

Governor’s Warning

North Carolina’s Perdue told reporters today she was “dismayed that many of the ferries were still empty” at Ocracoke Island, which is evacuating tourists. “We are asking people all over eastern North Carolina to take this storm very seriously,” she said.

The U.S. Navy moved 64 ships away from Norfolk, Virginia, to keep them from being damaged by the storm, the Associated Press reported.

The dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on the National Mall in Washington on Aug. 28, at which President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak, is still on schedule.

Residents along the coast north of the Carolinas will “experience a raging hurricane,” said Jim Dale, a risk meteorologist with High Wycombe, England-based British Weather Services. “They will see 70-100 miles-per-hour winds and also copious amounts of rain. Flooding and storm damage from wind is inevitable.”

Bahamas Impact

Irene is ripping through the Bahamas with winds of 115 miles per hour, damaging homes, felling trees and triggering flooding, according to the Bahamas Emergency Management Agency.

The U.S. center warned the Bahamas would experience storm surges of as much as 11 feet above sea level and that up to 12 inches of rain may fall. Irene’s hurricane-strength winds of at least 74 mph extend 70 miles from its core, and tropical-storm-strength winds reach out 290 miles.

The last hurricane to strike the U.S. was Ike in 2008, a Category 2 storm when it went ashore near Galveston, Texas. The most recent major hurricane, one with winds of at least 111 mph, was Wilma in 2005.

Farther east in the Atlantic, Tropical Depression 10 probably will be upgraded to a tropical storm today, the center said. The next tropical storm will be named Jose.

The system is about 505 miles west of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands and moving west-northwest across open waters at 12 mph, the Miami-based center said.

(Updates storm position in third paragraph, North Carolina and New Jersey governors declaring emergencies in ninth.)
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