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Airlines cancel thousands of flights

Hurricane Irene takes 5 lives and leaves over 1 million without power

Aug 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene is plowing its way along the US East Coast and has caused at least 5 deaths. More than 1 million are without power, and over a million from New Jersey have evacuated.

While the storm weakened some as it came ashore early Saturday near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, Irene remained a Category 1 hurricane.

Emergency officials pleaded with stubborn residents to evacuate, warning that heavy rains and a storm surge of 4 feet to 8 feet could cause widespread flooding of low-lying areas and pose untold dangers to residents from Virginia to New England.

"This is a storm where if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be fatal," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned.

The storm had claimed at least five lives by Saturday afternoon. In North Carolina on Saturday, a Pitt County motorist died after driving into standing water, losing control and hitting a tree. Also Saturday, a Nash County man died when a tree limb fell on him. Another man died Friday while preparing his Onslow County home for the storm, according to emergency officials.

In Virginia, a child died in Newport News when a tree fell on an apartment building, and a man died in Brunswick County when a tree fell on his car, officials said.

As of 5:00 pm, Irene was 50 miles south of Norfolk, Virginia, moving north at 13 mph. It had maximum winds of 80 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was expected to continue whirling north along the coast through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New York, and up into New England. Tropical storm warnings were even up for parts of coastal Canada.

As it passed through North Carolina, Irene ripped off roofs and caused other damage to homes and businesses in Hyde and Jones counties, toppled trees that blocked roads, and brought down power lines statewide, according to the state emergency management division.

Heavy rain and a flooding storm surge cut off thousands of residents in Beaufort, Carteret, and Pamlico counties, the state Emergency Management Agency reported.

A tornado spawned by Irene destroyed 5 homes and seriously damaged a business in Tyrrell County, Sheriff Darryl Liverman told CNN affiliate WITN. Vance County authorities published photos of a home damaged when a tree fell on it and crashed through a bedroom ceiling. It was unclear if anyone was injured.

Every road in Jones County was blocked by downed trees, the state emergency management agency reported, and a storm shelter there lost part of its roof, forcing the evacuation of 75 people who had sought shelter from the storm. Several other shelters were without power.

Road crews across the state were trying to clear roads, but trees kept falling around them, the state transportation department said.

In Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, police and public works crews stopped responding to calls because of adverse conditions, the state emergency management division reported. Buildings in downtown Columbia, North Carolina, were flooded, the division said, relaying reports from the city's emergency manager.

A hotel facade ripped away and part of a pier fell into the ocean.

At least 516,000 homes and businesses were without power in North Carolina, according to state and utility reports.

On Ocracoke Island, at the southern end of the Outer Banks, a couple of hundred residents riding out the storm lost power early Saturday morning. Their power lines are strung along poles mounted on the highest sand dunes.

"The power went off for good around 5:00 am," said Clayton Gaskill, who had been trying to keep the island's tiny radio station, WOVV, running through the night. "We won't be back on the air until the storm goes by, because there's no shelter for the portable generators," he said in a text message to CNN.

In Virginia, more than 500,000 homes and businesses were without electricity as of 4:30 pm ET, according to the state Department of Emergency Management. Officials warned people to be prepared to be without power for up to a week.

In Chesapeake, Virginia, iReporter Kathi Vanpeeren said Irene's winds at Virginia Beach were violent.

"I'm not panicked at this point, just kind of watchful and keeping an eye on what's going on outside," she said, "Everybody around me has pretty much prepared the best we can."

Others were refusing to take the storm seriously. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pleaded with about 600 residents of Atlantic City high rises, many of them elderly, to take up his offer of a free ride out of the danger zone. Most were refusing, and time was running short, he said.

"Allow us to protect you," he said.

More than 1 million residents of the Jersey shore had joined untold numbers of others from the Carolinas to New England in moving inland or to higher ground, away from the storm's worst impacts, Christie said.

Those who remained behind in communities where the storm has yet to hit are making a mistake believing that the storm is too weak to do any damage, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said.

"Some of our most devastating floods have occurred in tropical storms," he said.

In New York - where the city ordered the unprecedented evacuation of 370,000 people from low-lying areas on Friday - even residents who aren't being ordered to leave could face an arduous few days following Irene's tour of the city.

The city's transit system, shut down Saturday, may not be fully running again until Monday at the earliest, high-rise buildings are being instructed to turn off elevators and utility ConEd may have to cut power to Manhattan, Bloomberg said.

Amtrak canceled its northeast routes on Sunday, and airlines scratched thousands of flights. Airports in Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Boston all planned to suspend operations for at least some part of the weekend.

President Barack Obama continued to closely monitor the storm, according to White House officials. He toured FEMA's operations center Saturday morning. Meanwhile, defense officials told 6,500 service members to prepare to deploy to storm-ravaged regions should state officials need them.

The Red Cross sheltered 13,000 people in 150 shelters Friday night, President Gail McGovern said. More than two-thirds of the nonprofit's emergency response vehicles had deployed to the East Coast, she said.

"We're now in the middle of what could be one of the largest responses that the Red Cross operations has had in recent memory," she said.

CNN's Chris Boyette, Gustavo Valdes, John Zarrella, Ivan Cabrera, Jacqui Jeras, Kimberly Segal, Holly Yan, Sarah Hoye, Kristina Sgueglia, Rafael Romo, Eden Pontz, and Poppy Harlow contributed to this report.

Hurricane Irene takes 5 lives and leaves over 1 million without power
Photo by Michael Miller/CNN


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