Storm surges from a looming Hurricane Irene begin flooding the...

Storm surges from a looming Hurricane Irene begin flooding the docks in Babylon Village. (Aug. 27, 2011) Credit: T.C. McCarthy

Hurricane Irene roared its way up the East Coast and bore down on Long Island, where Nassau and Suffolk County residents filled sandbags, covered windows with plywood and hunkered down -- at home and in shelters -- to get ready for the storm's landfall Sunday morning.

"When people wake up, we'll be in the worst of what we'll get from Irene," said National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Morrin. "By 8 a.m. Sunday, hurricane-force wind gusts could be sweeping Long Island, particularly on the South Shore."

The storm's impact is already being felt. As of  4 a.m., about 100,429 Long Island Power Authority customers were without power, including about 28,256 in the Town of Hempstead.

Public transit systems across the metropolitan area shut down. Throughout the day, hundreds of thousands were ordered to evacuate as outer bands from Irene lashed the region through the afternoon. Into the night, officials encouraged people to stay inside.

"Everyone should go inside and stay inside," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at 10:30 p.m. "Conditions are expected to deteriorate rapidly."

A tornado watch remain in effect for Long Island, New York City and Rockland and Westchester counties, according to the weather service.

In some places, officials personally cajoled residents of flood-prone areas to leave.

 

After Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan visited their low-lying street with members of the West Islip Fire Department, Tahlulah Lane residents David and Marisa Hammock said they would head for higher ground.

"We'd been assessing it," said David, 35. Marisa, 31, explained she was worried about their pets, two dogs and a cat, because they hadn't been able to find a place to take them.

"He reinforced the decision to leave," said Marisa's father, Peter Miranti. "It makes sense. Gloria [a Category 2 hurricane in 1985] was here for just two hours at low tide and Irene might be on us for five hours at high tide."

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko urged a dozen Fire Island holdouts to leave the vulnerable barrier island while a boat could still be sent to fetch them.

To reduce damage to substations, the Long Island Power Authority shut power to Fire Island, Robert Moses State Park, Captree and Oak Beach, said LIPA spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

"The entire island could be breached by an eight-foot surge," Lesko said. Staying, he said, "is really an unwise decision."

The dangers were brought home by the first reports of deaths from Irene's assault -- two people were killed by falling trees in Virginia, and another died in North Carolina after being hit by a tree branch, according to The Associated Press.

Only a handful of flights -- mostly overseas -- left the three major airports, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. There are "far less than 100" stranded passengers, he said.

One restaurant in each terminal will remain open and cots will be available, Coleman said.

At JFK's Terminal Four, Virginia residents Jennifer and Mike Tucker said they'd been waiting for their luggage since 8 a.m., when their cruise back from the Bahamas docked early because of the storm. The earliest flight out would be Monday, they were told.

"I just want to go home and be with my family," said Jennifer Tucker."

In Garden City, a shelter at Nassau Community College's gymnasium reached capacity of just over 1,000 yesterday afternoon.

Briana Calderon of Inwood shared a cot with her 6-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, and the girl's grandmother.

"You never know what's going to happen," Calderon said. "We just thank God we got out and we're all here."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said people at shelters should expect to stay there at least through Monday. Officials warned that after Irene moves past this afternoon, it will take time to restore vital services.

Bloomberg said people should count on there not being any public transportation for tomorrow morning's rush hour.

Metropolitan Transit Authority spokesman Sam Zambuto said Saturday's midafternoon shutdown of the Long Island Rail Road was orderly. By 3 p.m. LIRR crews began to tie up 588 gates at 295 crossings.

LIPA expected outages "islandwide," said Baird-Streeter. Bloomberg cautioned that Consolidated Edison may shut down part of the power grid if flooding is severe.

Power crews from out of state converged on Long Island, bringing the total outside force to 1,230 during the next several days, and more than 2,180 including National Grid and on-island contractors. LIPA will stage crews in three areas: at Christopher Morely Park in Nassau, near the Islip MacArthur Airport in Suffolk, and at East Hampton airport.

Irene should make landfall on Long Island as a Category 1 hurricane about 9 or 10 a.m. Sunday in Nassau or western Queens. A Category 1 carries 74 to 95 mph sustained winds.

As of late Saturday, forecasters predicted winds of 40 to 50 mph on Long Island overnight, intensifying after daybreak with peak wind gusts of 80 mph. A midmorning landfall would put the storm close to high tide on both the South Shore and North Shore, worsening storm surges.

The surge is predicted to be 5 to 8 feet along western Long Island Sound and 3 to 6 feet along the South Shore bays and eastern Long Island Sound. That will be on top of higher than normal tides accompanying a new moon, exacerbating coastal flooding.

During a break in the rain Saturday, Jennifer Holmes, 28, in a white wedding dress and Joseph Holmes, 22, walked past well-wishers blowing bubbles on the lawn of United Methodist Church in Southampton. "We weren't going let it ruin our day," Holmes said.

Sunday, instead of honeymooning, they figured they would be clearing fallen trees. Both work for the town highway department. "They're going to call us in if the storm hits," the bride said.