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Last updated: August 25, 2011 11:32 pm
The governor of New York declared a state of emergency on Thursday as the eastern coast of the US braced itself for Hurricane Irene.
Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that the declaration would allow the state to assist counties, cities and towns “more effectively and quickly”.
The hurricane is tacking west from the Caribbean on a course that could take it to New York City by Sunday.
In the neighbouring state of New Jersey, up to 750,000 people have been mandated to evacuate the coastal resort region of Cape May County. The holiday destination, which has nearly 100,000 year-round residents, sees its population swell over the summer.
Lenora Boninfante, the public information officer, said: “A mandatory evacuation order has been put in place from 8am tomorrow. Visitors have been asked to go home, while those planning to arrive this weekend have been told to hold off until next week.”
On Thursday, Irene was still a category 3 storm, with wind speeds of up to 125 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center, making it potentially the largest to hit the east coast since 1985, and threatening residents and transport systems with powerful gusts and heavy rain.
Irene was estimated to first hit the Outer Banks, the holiday destination off the coast of North Carolina, early on Saturday. All tourists have been told to cut their vacations short and evacuate the area.
The centre has declared a hurricane watch along the coast of North Carolina, while its governor, Bev Perdue, issued a state of emergency for the state’s eastern counties.
The storm, which has already pummelled the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, is on a path north that could threaten Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said city officials were preparing for the worst.
“If the worst scenario is going to happen this weekend, we will activate other elements of our coastal storm plan, including the possibility of evacuating New Yorkers who live in low-lying areas that could be affected by such storm surges,” Mr Bloomberg said.
That could mean evacuations for downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Thousands of city employees will also be called on to run evacuation centres and emergency shelters should the need arise.
Residents have been told to prepare for flooding and power outages as a result of the heavy winds and rains, which also threaten to disrupt the start of the US Open tennis tournament on Monday.
“In this emergency I am activating all levels of state government to prepare for any situation that may be caused by Hurricane Irene,” Mr Cuomo said.
“We are communicating with our federal and local partners to track the storm and to plan a co-ordinated response, and we will deploy resources as needed to the areas expected to be hit the hardest. I urge New Yorkers to personally prepare for hurricane conditions and to co-operate with emergency officials if needed.”
Chris Christie, New Jersey governor, signed a state of emergency order and urged people at the Jersey Shore to leave voluntarily by midday Friday. He said he was considering a mandatory evacuation.
Meanwhile, Amtrak, the rail company, has cancelled trains going south out of Washington over the weekend in anticipation of the storm.
In 1985, Hurricane Gloria, which was dubbed the “storm of the century”, crashed into the east coast after building into a category 4. It hit Outer Banks first but moved up the coastline, eventually reaching land at Long Island, then again in Connecticut. It caused more than $1bn of damage.
Irene is the ninth named storm so far this hurricane season – which runs from June to November – and, if its current trajectory is maintained, will be the first to hit the US mainland since Ike crashed into the Texas coast in 2008.
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