Hurricane Irene: East Coast States Declare Emergencies


hurricane-irene1[Video below.] Evacuation orders were issued along the coast of North Carolina today and emergency declarations were made by states as far north as New Jersey as Hurricane Irene gathered strength and took direct aim at the U.S. coast.

“This is a very, very serious situation,” said Dorothy Toolan, public information officer for Dare County, N.C. “We have not seen anything like this in the lifetimes of most our residents.”

The county issued evacuation orders for all of its 180,000 residents because “once the storm hits it will be very difficult to respond to distress calls,” Toolan said.

Evacuation orders were also issued by Currituck and Cateret counties along North Carolina’s shoreline.

As cars streamed away from the barrier islands, the governors of Virginia and New Jersey declared states of emergency. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg said police are deploying more than 80 boats around the city as well as several helicopters to prepare for emergencies, and city hospitals have tested their emergency generators.

Fearing Irene’s wrath, Amtrak announced it is canceling all train service south of Washington D.C. for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Irene, which spent the day battering the Bahamas, is expected to slam into the North Carolina coast Friday night and then churn north along the coast as far as Boston.

“This one’s going to affect everybody as it goes up the coast. We don’t see it moving far out to sea and skipping a few of the places that in the past it had skipped,” National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.

The Category 3 storm is currently moving over the northwestern Bahamas sustaining winds as high as 115 mph with even higher gusts.

Overnight, the slow moving storm lashed the Bahamas, uprooting trees, shattering glass and leaving much of the southeastern islands without power.

As the storm clears the island and continues over the warm water of the Atlantic, its wind speed is expected to strengthen and the size of the storm could increase to a category 4 with wind speeds of at least 131 mph.

Based on its current path, Irene could hit Cape Hatteras, N.C., by Friday night and batter the Mid-Atlantic by Saturday night onto Sunday morning.

It is expected to weaken somewhat as it claws its way up the coast, but will likely still be packing winds of 50 to 70 mph when it reaches New York City and Boston. It is expected to dump 6 to 12 inches of rain on the Jersey shore, Long Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In North Carolina, the roadways are clogged as tourists and locals flee to get ahead of the storm. The National Hurricane Center issued a Hurricane Watch in much of coastal North Carolina this morning. Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks is under a mandatory evacuation order.

Captain Al Foreman has been a charter boat captain for 40 years on the Outer Banks and fears this storm might be the worst he’s seen.

“Everything is so low here on the Outer Banks, nothing is built really high. It wouldn’t take much of a storm surge to do a lot of damage,” Foreman said.

The Navy is preparing to move 126 warships, the entire Second Fleet, out of Irene’s path.

What’s making Irene’s fury unique is not only it’s size at 750 miles wide, but its slow pace.

“It’s already a fairly large storm and as it moves northwards, it’s going to get even larger and very important, this one on our forecast is moving slower by quite a bit than the average storms,” Read said. “It gives more time to build up the tidal elevations and the storm surge that will be associated with this storm. It’s too early to pinpoint, but there’s a large area of the coast that may be impacted by the dangerous storm surge on this path.”

Irene is expected to move at 15 to 20 miles per hour as it crosses the northeast, Read said. A typical storm moves at 25 to 35 miles per hour.

Behind Irene, another tropical depression formed in the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center says the depression could be Tropical Storm Jose later today.

Click below for video:

{ABC News/ Newscenter}