Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, center, speaks at a press conference about Hurricane Irene at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington Saturday. (Photo: AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
More than two million people were ordered to evacuate the East Coast in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, according to reports.
Hurricane Irene first made landfall along the North Carolina coast around 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, where winds were reportedly 115 mph, ripping power lines from poles and snapping trees in half.
At least 270,000 homes in North Carolina were left without electricity after rough winds and rain lashed the coastal communities. Hardest hit were Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, Project Energy reported. A spokesperson for the company said that number is expected to rise.
Authorities reported five deaths due to Irene-related incidents as of Saturday afternoon.
In North Carolina, the first occurred in Onslow County on Friday when a man had a heart attack while boarding up his windows. The second came on Saturday as a man feeding livestock was struck and killed by a falling tree limb. A motorist reportedly lost control of a car in Pitt County.
Another report was of an 11-year-old boy who was crushed by a tree in Newport News, Virginia. Also in Virginia, a tree fell on a car in Brunswick County and killed someone inside the vehicle, authorities say.
Eight people were injured in rough waters caused by Irene in South Florida.
As Irene moved north by early afternoon, tropical storms conditions were expected to hit Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, where sustained winds of 39 mph were anticipated.
By mid-afternoon, tropical storm warnings were issued for parts of Canada north of the U.S. border.
New York City began shutting down the nation’s largest subway system on Saturday afternoon. This was the first time the subways were shut down in anticipation of a natural disaster. Sidewalks, bridges and streets were reportedly empty by early afternoon. Businesses too shuttered their doors and last-minute subway riders raced to safer ground.
More than 300,000 people were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas of New York City by 5 p.m. on Saturday. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned on Friday, "If you don't follow this, people may die."
Consolidated Edison, New York City’s largest utility company, warned on Saturday that service in the southern tip of Manhattan and West Village could be shut off if Irene brings serious flooding on Sunday. A spokesperson said nothing will be done will be done proactively.
Irene has already put a strain on fuel supplies as refueling barges wait out the storm off the coast. Experts anticipate widespread power outages that could cut automated delivery networks for gasoline stations, forcing them to individually call terminals when they run out, slowing down fuel deliveries and causing frustration for motorists waiting to fill up at the pump.
Some gas stations in New Jersey have reported that they'd run out of fuel. Those shortages could become more widespread.
More than 8,000 airline flights from North Carolina to Boston were canceled as Irene cut through the East Coast — 3,600 of those flights were canceled on Saturday alone.
On Saturday President Barack Obama visited federal emergency management workers hunkered down for Hurricane Irene's weekend march up the East Coast.
He said the government is aiming to be as effective with the response and recovery after Irene as it has been with preparations before the storm became a threat to the U.S.
"It's going to be a long 72 hours and obviously a lot of families are going to be affected," the president said.
President Obama had already declared emergencies for North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts ahead of Irene.