MIAMI, Aug. 27 (UPI) — The center of Hurricane Irene headed for the North Carolina coast Saturday, as tropical storm conditions spread northward along the coast, forecasters said.
In its 1 a.m. EDT update, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irene, a Category 2 storm, was about 105 miles south of Cape Lookout, N.C., and about 155 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C., with top sustained winds of 100 mph, and was moving north-northeast at 13 mph.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward 90 miles with tropical-storm-force winds extending out 290 miles.
The storm was expected to maintain that general motion Saturday. On its forecast track, the center of Irene will likely approach the North Carolina coast early Saturday, and then pass near or over the North Carolina coast later in the morning, before moving near or over the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday night and the southern New England coast Sunday.
Little change in strength is expected before the storm hits the North Carolina coast and some weakening could occur after that, but Irene is expected to retain hurricane strength through Sunday.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued the first-ever mandatory evacuation order for low-lying areas, transit officials in New York and Philadelphia ordered a transit shutdown as of noon Saturday, and President Barack Obama curtailed his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to head back to Washington Friday night.
The president Friday declared a state of emergency both in Virginia and Massachusetts.
Numerous baseball games and other sporting events were rescheduled and the planned Sunday dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was postponed until next month.
A mandatory evacuation order went into effect at 8 a.m. for Hatteras Island off North Carolina as Irene churned up powerful waves, the Island Free Press reported. Shelters opened at 10 a.m. in Roanoke Rapids and North Jackson.
Obama convened a conference call to discuss preparations with his administration’s emergency response team.
“All indications point to this being a historic hurricane,” Obama said.
“I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don’t wait. Don’t delay. We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst.”
Obama said he spoke with mayors and governors along the Eastern Seaboard Friday morning “to let them know that this administration is in full support of their efforts to prepare for this storm and stands ready to fully support their response efforts.”
Obama issued a disaster declaration for New York to speed emergency relief efforts.
Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, said in an ABC interview the problem with Irene is the storm is taking aim at so many population centers, potentially wreaking havoc with electrical lines due to falling trees and limbs and producing massive flooding.
“At a minimum, especially from, I’d say, the Washington, D.C.-area up through Boston, when you’re right on the coast there, we have tidal issues so we’re gonna have to worry about storm-surge flooding in the low places. And that’s where your local emergency manager will be evacuating people,” Read said.
“I’d say, at a minimum, you’re going to get tropical-storm-force winds in every one of those cities. I don’t see it falling apart.”
Irene’s intense brush with southern Florida battered beaches and endangered swimmers and surfers, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Palm Beach County emergency officials said eight people were injured Thursday after a large wave knocked them down at the north jetty of the Boynton Inlet.
In Jupiter, Fla., officials said a 27-year-old man, believed to have drowned, was found more than a mile from where he entered the ocean.
Weather advisories ranging from tropical storm watches and warnings to hurricane watches and warnings were posted all along the East Coast.
Hurricane warnings were in effect from Little River Inlet, N.C., north to Sagamore Beach, Mass., with a tropical storm warning in effect north of Edisto Beach, S.C., to Little River Inlet, Chesapeake Bay from Drum Point to the Potomac River tidal area and from north of Sagamore Beach to the Merrimack River. A tropical storm watch was in effect from the Merrimack River to Eastport, Maine.
Amtrak and major airlines started canceling routes and flights or putting them on a watch list in anticipation of the storm, CNN reported.
“Everybody should take this very seriously,” said North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, who declared a state of emergency for parts of the state east of Interstate 95. “Everyone is telling us this is a big deal for North Carolina.”
The National Hurricane Center said isolated tornadoes were possible over the extreme eastern portion of North Carolina Saturday, and one tornado was reported in Beaufort County.
Governors of Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Virginia also declared states of emergency, which allows states to free funds and prepare resources that may be needed.
“This is a large, this is a deadly, this is a slow-moving hurricane that is bearing down on the state of Maryland,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in declaring an emergency. “There will no doubt be a lot of flooding. Citizens should anticipate long periods of electrical outages.”
The military moved 27 ships based in Norfolk, Va., out to sea ahead of the storm, CNN reported.
“You only have to look at the weather maps to understand how big this storm is and how unique it is,” Bloomberg told a news conference, “and it’s heading basically for us.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told shore-area residents trying to sit out the storm wasn’t “the smart thing to do” and urged people planning a visit to the Jersey shore to rethink their plans.
“Do not go,” he said.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick ordered reservoirs to be drawn down to make room for the result of torrential rains, CNN reported.