Irene rakes up US East Coast, shuts down New York

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Hurricane Irene charged up the East Coast Saturday toward New York, shutting down the city, and millions of Americans hunkered down as the giant storm halted transport and caused massive power blackouts.
“The storm is coming,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the more than 8 million people who live in the United States’ most populous city that includes Wall Street, one of the world’s major financial centers.
From the Carolinas to Maine, tens of millions of people were in the path of the 580 mile-wide storm that howled ashore in North Carolina at daybreak Saturday, dumping torrential rain, felling trees and knocking out power.
At least seven deaths were reported in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. Several million people were under evacuation orders on the U.S. East Coast.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which connects Virginia’s Eastern Shore with the mainland and is regarded as a modern engineering wonder, was closed because of the winds and rain.
This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves. President Barack Obama was keeping a close eye on preparations for the hurricane.
New York City’s normally bustling streets turned eerily quiet after authorities ordered unprecedented major evacuations and shut down its airports and subways.
Commuters were left to flag down yellow taxis and livery cabs that were patrolling largely deserted streets.
Irene caused transport chaos in the eastern United States, as airline, rail and transit systems in New York and other cities started sweeping weekend shutdowns.
The Coast Guard closed the port of Philadelphia, while New York Harbor remained open with some restrictions.
“We are trying to get to Boston and that is not going to happen. We’re just stuck here,” Rachel Karten said from the near-empty Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. “We didn’t think they would shut down everything.”
Irene left nearly 1 million people without power in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Saturday and New York prepared for possible wide blackouts.
With winds of 😯 miles per hour (130 km per hour), Irene had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. But it was expected to approach New York Saturday night at or near hurricane strength, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Irene came ashore near North Carolina’s Cape Lookout around 7:30 a.m. EDT, and then chugged up the coast on a north-northeast track. By 8 p.m. (0000 GMT), the center was 30 miles east southeast of Norfolk, Virginia, and 300 miles south southwest of New York City.
Irene could slacken to a tropical storm by the time it hits New England Sunday, but the Miami-based hurricane center said that would make little difference in the impact from its damaging winds, flooding rains and dangerous storm surge.
“I would advise people not to focus that much on Category 1, 2 or 3 … if you’re in a hurricane, it’s a big deal,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a conference call. “This remains a large and dangerous storm,” she said.