Irene cuts power to 1.8 million

NEW YORK Sun Aug 28, 2011 2:18am EDT

Flood waters caused by Hurricane Irene raise on a residential street in Ocean City, Maryland, August 27, 2011. REUTERS/Molly Riley

Flood waters caused by Hurricane Irene raise on a residential street in Ocean City, Maryland, August 27, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Molly Riley

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Irene knocked out power to 1.8 million homes and businesses, disrupted oil refineries and forced nuclear plants to reduce power as it barreled toward New York City.

As the Southeast made small progress toward restoring power as Irene spun northward, blackouts in Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey jumped.

Only 19,000 customers faced outages in New York City, but Consolidated Edison warned that downtown Manhattan, including Wall Street, could face further blackouts as low lying areas flooded.

Local forecasters said the path of Irene was shifting westward, raising the prospect of 10-foot storm surges.

Several East Coast refineries were forced to cut back on runs, while ConocoPhillips shut its Bayway plant in New Jersey. Other refiners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey throttled back on throughput or prepared for the full impact of the storm.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Philadelphia, an oil hub, and restricted some vessel traffic at the larger hub of New York Harbor, which stayed open.

Power generator Exelon idled the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County, New Jersey, as a precaution. The plant supplies up to 600,000 homes.

The shutdown is expected to be short and other power supply may be available in the region, a company spokesman said.

"It's really as a precaution, a conservative action because we do expect hurricane force winds," said Exelon spokesman Marshall Murphy on Saturday.

Irene earlier cut power to large swaths of Virginia and North Carolina as it came ashore, prompting Brunswick nuclear power plant in Southport, North Carolina to reduce power generation.

(Reporting by Selam Gebrekidan, Jeanine Prezioso, Joshua Schneyer, Janet McGurty, David Sheppard, and Matthew Robinson; Writing by Matthew Robinson)

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