* Airlines cancel 8,300 flights as storm bears down
* New York airports, subway system close
* High winds could force closure of big bridges
* More than 1 mln evacuate NJ shore by road
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, Aug 27 U.S. airline, rail and
transit systems in New York and other eastern cities initiated
sweeping weekend shutdowns and slowdowns on Saturday as
Hurricane Irene bore down on the region.
Tens of millions of air travelers, train passengers and
subway and bus riders scrambled to adjust their routines, work
commutes and vacations as transportation networks gradually
scale back operations to minimize disruptions.
Coordinated transportation-related closures or slowdowns,
often seen during winter storms in the Northeast, were mostly
announced on Friday to give travelers enough time to adjust and
ensure they stay away from Irene's fury.
New York's subway system, which carries 7 million riders
daily and operates the largest fleet in the world, had never
closed due to weather. The storied Staten Island Ferry was to
suspend service Saturday night.
"You can listen to the noise of the elevated train. That's
not going to be here this afternoon, and I think that's the
message that people have to start understanding," said New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, urging residents in designated
evacuation areas to heed warnings to leave.
Airlines canceled more than 8,300 flights for the weekend,
with that number expected to increase because carriers schedule
more flights on Mondays, according to the online flight
tracking service Flightaware.com.
The Northeast is the most congested area of U.S. air
space, with John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York
and Newark airport in New Jersey handling nearly 100 million
domestic and international passengers annually. Disruptions in
the region affect flights elsewhere.
The New York-area airports closed at noon EDT for arrivals
and the last departures were expected during the evening. Those
airports would reopen as post-storm conditions permitted,
For a TAKE A LOOK on Irene [ID:nSTORM]
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
The virtually empty rain- and wind-swept tarmac at Reagan
National in Washington handled sparse Saturday traffic, usually
the lightest day of the week. The nation's capital was not
expecting a head-on hit from the storm.
Posted schedules showed flights only heading west to
Detroit, Milwaukee and other cities. Reagan National,
Washington Dulles, and Baltimore-Washington airports all
planned to stay open through the storm even though airlines
were halting service.
Airports have backup generators that are usually reserved
for maintaining power at air traffic towers and for public
safety. But expectations were that Washington airports would be
active again Sunday afternoon.
"If it goes through and is all over by late (Sunday)
morning or early afternoon, things should get back on track,"
said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for Reagan National and
As at New York airports, airlines moved jetliners to safer
areas like Chicago and other Midwest airports.
"We are not keeping any aircraft in Irene's path," said
Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, a unit of
AMR Corp AMR.N.
Other carriers heavily affected include US Airways LCC.N,
Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), and United Airlines (UAL.N).
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it was
working to protect air traffic towers and other facilities and
equipment from any storm damage.
More than 1 million people evacuated the New Jersey shore
areas via roads over a 24-hour period, the state's governor,
Chris Christie, said.
Christie sharply urged those remaining at Jersey Shore
resorts on Friday to "get the hell off the beach" and leave the
region to avoid the storm.
Maryland planned to close the 180-foot-high Bay Bridge,
which spans the Chesapeake Bay and links the Maryland and
Delaware shore with the Washington region, later on Saturday.
Virginia closed the 20-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
Authorities also planned speed and lane restrictions on the
Delaware Memorial Bridge, a major north-south span on
Interstate 95, and could order it closed if conditions
warranted. New York authorities said they could close the
George Washington Bridge, depending on Irene's winds. Other New
York City suspension bridges could also close.
New York harbor was emptied of ships.
Airline travelers had few alternatives with Amtrak also
scaling back Northeast rail service on Saturday and planning to
shut it down on Sunday.
Freight rail operator CSX CSX.N curtailed local service
in coastal North Carolina and Virginia and would resume
operations "as conditions allow."
CSX was inspecting tracks along the mid-Atlantic region.
Locomotives, rail cars and crossing gates were secured ahead of
(Editing by Philip Barbara)