‘A big, bad storm’
WILMINGTON, North Carolina (Reuters) - Hurricane Irene bore down on North Carolina on Friday, tens of thousands of people evacuated and East Coast cities including New York braced for a weekend hit from the powerful storm.
Fifty-five million people are potentially in Irene’s path from the Carolinas to Cape Cod. Tens of thousands of coastal residents were leaving their homes for safety, starting in east North Carolina that juts into the Atlantic ocean and where Irene is due to make its first US landfall on Saturday.
“This is a big, bad storm,” North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said. “We are prepared for the worst, praying for the best ... we are ready,” she told CNN.
Irene weakened slightly early on Friday - to a Category 2 hurricane from a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale - but still was packing winds of up to 110 miles per hour.
At 9am Bermuda time its centre was about 375 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, moving north.
Coastal communities from the Carolinas to New England, stocked up on food and water and tried to secure homes, vehicles and boats. States, cities, ports, hospitals, oil refineries and nuclear plants activated emergency plans.
Forecasters expect that after hitting North Carolina's eastern coast as a powerful, broad hurricane on Saturday, Irene will then rake up the densely-populated US eastern seaboard to New York, America’s most populous city of more than eight million inhabitants, and beyond.
"Flooding, flash flooding and power outages will impact a lot of folks," Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate told CNN.