Hurricane Irene stormed ashore in the eastern U.S. state of North
Carolina Saturday, beginning its potentially devastating trek up the
Irene carried winds of 140 kilometers per hour as it made landfall and
battered the eastern U.S. coast with heavy rains.
The storm has already toppled trees, flooded streets and knocked out
power to tens of thousands of people.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center downgraded Irene to the
weakest category for hurricanes with winds at 150 kilometers per hour in
the early morning hours of Saturday. But they still cautioned that the
storm would remain a hurricane as it moves into the heavily populated
corridor around Washington.
A hurricane warning has been issued for New York and much of the eastern
U.S. coast in what. President Barack Obama is calling "an extremely
dangerous and costly" storm.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered the city's first ever
mandatory evacuation. Some quarter-million people have been told to
leave their homes in low-lying areas of the city, including the Wall
Street financial district. And in another first, New York's entire
public transit system, including subway trains and buses, will shut down
Saturday. All three of New York's major airports will shut down starting
at mid-day as well.
Airlines have already canceled hundreds of flights elsewhere on the east
coast, and train services in parts of the eastern region have been
Irene is the first hurricane to seriously threaten the United States in
three years. It has already killed at least one person in Puerto Rico
and two in the Dominican Republic, and also destroyed homes in The
also hits at the six-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, whose
flooding killed more than 1,800 people and forced more than a million
residents from their homes in the southeastern United States. The
federal response to that disaster was widely criticized as slow and
mismanaged, and U.S. officials are determined to be prepared this time.
Obama says all indications point to Irene being a "historic" storm. He
said the nation has to be "prepared for the worst." He returned to
Washington late Friday, leaving his vacation in Massachusetts a day
earlier than planned. President Obama has directed agencies to ensure
all the needed resources are available.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that federal
and local authorities are taking the storm "very seriously."
The threat of the hurricane also led organizers in Washington to
postpone Saturday's dedication of a memorial to civil rights leader
Martin Luther King, Jr.