Hurricane Irene steamed on a collision course for Long Island and the Eastern Seaboard Friday as more than 400,000 people in Nassau and Suffolk were ordered to evacuate and MTA officials announced they would shut down all train and bus service.
After hitting North Carolina Saturday, the slow-moving, giant storm, about the size of Texas, is expected to cross Long Island early Sunday as a Category 1 hurricane, making landfall in western Nassau County near Long Beach, bringing 6 to 12 inches of rain and sustained winds between 75 and 90 mph, forecasters said.
Before making landfall, heavy rain and wind gusts from Irene should arrive late Saturday. The center of the storm will cross the Island between 8 a.m. and noon Sunday.
In preparation for the storm Friday, MTA officials ordered the first-ever shutdown of all trains and buses, including the Long Island Rail Road.
Airlines canceled hundreds of flights into and out of New York-area airports and nearly 7,000 along the East Coast. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports will close at noon Saturday to arriving flights.
At Long Island MacArthur Airport, Southwest will cease flying operations at 11:50 a.m. Saturday, airport commissioner Teresa Rizzuto said.
All told, at least 2.6 million people along the Eastern Seaboard were affected by the evacuations, including 1 million in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia and 100,000 in Delaware.
"This is probably the largest number of people that have been threatened by a single hurricane in the United States," said Jay Baker, a geography professor at Florida State University.
"Don't wait. Don't delay," said President Barack Obama, who decided to cut short his summer vacation by a day and return to Washington.
Irene descended upon North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane Friday after hitting the Bahamas earlier this week as a Category 3 storm.
As of 11 p.m., the hurricane was 195 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and its maximum winds had decreased to 100 mph. In addition, forecasters said that the eye of the hurricane was weakening, an indicator that Irene was losing strength.
A hurricane watch for New York was upgraded to a warning Friday at 5 p.m.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency pledged federal assistance to the counties that comprise New York City and Long Island. The agency was to have representatives in Nassau and Suffolk Saturday morning.
"The eastward track of the storm was raising concerns," said Terry Lynam, spokesman for North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, of which Southside is a part. "We do have backup power. The question became, do we absolutely have enough backup power? We don't want to take any chances. That was the primary factor."
About 250 patients were being transferred "with appropriate clinical staff" to other North Shore-LIJ hospitals and other facilities, Lynam said.
The Long Island Power Authority is bracing for Irene by deploying 2,150 workers, including 1,200 from outside Long Island, to help restore power and clear trees.
With Sarah Crichton, Bill Bleyer, Alfonso A. Castillo, Keith Herbert, Ridgely Ochs, Sophia Chang, Mark Harrington and
The Associated Press
Getting ready for Hurricane Irene
FEMA recommends preparing a disaster kit that includes the following:
- Three-day supply of nonperishable food
- Fill up vehicles with fuel