Mass evacuations and canceled flights are among preparations for what could be the strongest hurricane to hit the East Coast in seven years.
Shoppers stock up on water from rapidly emptying shelves at a grocery store in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday urged New York City residents living in low-lying areas to line up a place to stay on high ground ahead of a possible evacuation this weekend due to Hurricane Irene. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
After battering the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic this week, the threat of Hurricane Irene was enough to spur state officials along the East Coast to action.
After a hurricane watch was issued for much of the North Carolina coast, state officials expanded evacuation orders on Thursday to include hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors staying on the low-lying strip of coastal villages and beaches. These areas, known as the Outer Banks, are expected to be hit the hardest on Saturday.
New Jersey’s governor has asked all visitors to the state’s seashore to evacuate by midday Friday. Gov. Chris Christie has called Irene a “serious, significant event” and has declared a state of emergency. Evacuations are not mandatory, he told the Associated Press, but they would be if people didn’t heed the state’s warnings. Irene is not expected to touch down in New Jersey, but flooding is expected.
The governor of Virginia has also made declarations in order to free up resources pending Irene’s arrival. The city of Oceaside, Maryland has ordered thousands of locals and visitiors to evacuate the beachside community.
Unrelated thunderstorms have already caused flight delays for up to two hours in major airports in New York and Washington, D.C., according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. American Airlines and its Caribbean affiliate canceled 126 flights on Thursday, according to the company.
FlightAware predicts more Irene-related cancellations to emerge by Friday, with the largest swell expected on Saturday.
Even the U.S. Navy is taking precautions, moving 27 ships, including an aircraft carrier, destroyers and submarines, from the southeastern region of Virginia out to safer waters. Nine other ships were already sent away while 28 more are docked at secured piers that are considered safe havens, the AP reports.
By Thursday afternoon, weather forecasters predicted that Irene would not reach Category 4 strength, though some strengthening is expected.
At Category 3 strength, Irene’s winds could whip at anywhere from 111 to 130 miles per hour, causing devastating damage, according to the National Weather Service.
(Photo: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)