* New York, Washington warned to expect storm impacts
* Hurricane to land at N. Carolina, rake up coast
* New York mayor says transit system may halt on Saturday
* Bahamas taking a battering, reports of homes washed away
(Updates storm position, impact on Washington)
By Neil Hartnell
NASSAU, Aug 25 U.S. Atlantic coastal residents
from the barrier islands of North Carolina to the capital in
Washington and the financial center of New York rushed to
prepare on Thursday for an assault by powerful Hurricane
From the Carolinas to Cape Cod, more than 50 million people
were potentially in Irene's path. States, cities, ports,
industries, oil refineries and nuclear plants scrambled to
activate emergency plans, while residents stocked up on food
and water and worked to secure homes, vehicles and boats.
The U.S. Navy sent the ships of its Second Fleet out of
port at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to ride out the expected
powerful storm at sea.
Irene battered the low-lying Bahamas southeast of Florida
as a major category 3 storm on Thursday and was expected to
sweep northward to hit the North Carolina coast on Saturday,
before raking the remaining Atlantic seaboard.
"All the major metropolitan areas along the Northeast are
going to be impacted," National Hurricane Center Director Bill
Read told Reuters Insider. "Being a large hurricane, tropical
storm-force winds will extend far inland."
Reuters Hurricane Tracker r.reuters.com/san78n
National Hurricane Center www.nhc.noaa.gov
Skeetobite Weather www.skeetobiteweather.com
Weather Underground www.wunderground.com/tropical
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in
North Carolina, authorizing federal aid to support the state's
After hitting North Carolina, Irene was expected to weaken
to a still-dangerous Category 2 storm on the five-step
Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, still strong enough to slam
dozens of Atlantic beach communities in Delaware, Maryland and
Virginia this weekend before heading to New York on Monday. A
Category 2 storm carries winds of 96 to 110 mph (154-177 kph).
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator
Craig Fugate briefed Obama and other top officials on the
threat from Irene, which included tropical-storm-force winds or
worse in Washington.
Irene forced the postponement of Sunday's dedication
ceremony for the new memorial honoring civil rights leader
Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall in Washington.
Amtrak canceled train service south from Washington at
least through Sunday.
Coastal evacuations were under way in North Carolina and
were ordered for beach resorts in Virginia, Delaware and
Maryland. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell urged residents to
seek shelter by Friday night, before the winds kick up.
"Saturday is going to be a horrendous day for travel. There
will be roads and bridges closed," he said.
Hurricane watches and warnings were in effect along the
Atlantic coast from North Carolina to New Jersey. The governors
of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey,
New York and Connecticut declared emergencies for Irene.
"From a flooding perspective, this could be a hundred-year
event," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
NEW YORK READIES
Irene will be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland
since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.
At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), Irene had sustained winds of 115
miles per hour (185 kph). It was moving north and its center
was about 490 miles (785 km south-southwest of Cape Hatteras,
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the United States'
most populous city was bracing for at least tropical storm
conditions and flooding starting on Sunday. Irene could hit
Long Island, which extends due east from the city, as a
Category 2 hurricane.
New York City hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying
areas were ordered to evacuate unless they obtained permission
to stay open. [ID:nN1E77O1YN]
"The city has already seen the power of Mother Nature once
this week, and Mother Nature may not be done with us yet,"
Bloomberg said, referring to Tuesday's earthquake that shook
the East Coast, frightening millions but causing no deaths.
He urged residents of vulnerable areas to move to safety on
Friday because the New York City mass transit system, the
nation's biggest with 8 million passengers a day, may have to
shut down on Saturday if flooding or high winds endanger its
buses, subways and commuter trains. Many New Yorkers do not
Irene was a huge storm and forecasters warned that even if
the center stays offshore as it tracks up the Mid-Atlantic
coast, its wide bands could lash cities like Washington,
Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York with winds and flooding
rain, uprooting trees and knocking out power.
STORM SURGE WARNING
Forecasters emphasized the risks for the densely populated
U.S. Northeast, which has not had a direct hit from a hurricane
in decades. Hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private forecaster
Weather Underground wrote in his blog that Irene could inundate
the Northeast coast with 10 to 15 feet (3-4.5 meters) of water,
"the highest storm surge depths ever recorded."
Flooding from Irene killed at least one person in Puerto
Rico and two in the Dominican Republic. The storm cut power in
the Bahamian capital Nassau on Thursday and blocked roadways
with fallen trees.
The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency said there
were reports that 90 percent of the homes and structures were
destroyed in some settlements in the southeast Acklins and
The storm missed Florida but whipped up massive swells
along its coast. Eight people were injured in the southeast
city of Boynton Beach on Thursday when they went out on a jetty
to gawk at the sea and were knocked down by a giant wave.
(Additional reporting by Tom Brown and Manuel Rueda in
Miami, Daniel Trotta and Joan Gralla in New York; Vicki Allen,
Laura MacInnis, Lisa Lambert and Deborah Charles in Washington;
Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Philip Barbara)