Hurricane Irene: Traffic Jams 20 Miles Long… 2.5 Million Evacuated Ahead Of Extensive Storm Surge

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Traffic Jams 20 Miles Long As Over 2.5 Million People Are Evacuated In The Face of Extensive Storm Surge Flooding From Hurricane Irene

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Top developments:

  • 2.5 million under evacuation orders; 550,000 are in NYC, Long Island
  • NYC, N.J., Philadelphia to suspend mass transit service during part of weekend
  • Hard rain falls on North Carolina’s Outer Banks; max winds weaken to 100 mph
  • Obama to leave vacation island a day early due to Irene
” href=”http://cdn1.alexanderhiggins.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/States-Of-Emergency-Declared-Along-Eastern-Seabord.jpg”>States Of Emergency Declared Along US East Coast 

States Of Emergency Declared Along US East Coast

NEW YORK — With more coastal cities ordering evacuations ahead of Hurricane Irene, residents and tourists alike from North Carolina to New York City were moving toward higher ground.

Traffic jams as long as 20 miles were reported and some service stations in New Jersey and other areas had run out of gasoline, according to the Oil Price Information Service, which tracks supplies and prices. Gasoline demand jumped 20 percent to 40 percent in Mid-Atlantic states, the service said.

Mass transit was disrupted across the Northeast and Amtrak said it was suspending service along much of the East Coast. Airlines were canceling thousands of flights.

Evacuation orders covered 1 million people in New Jersey, 550,000 in New York, 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.

New York, the nation’s largest city, was among those announcing evacuations Friday.

“We’ve never done a mandatory evacuation before and we wouldn’t be doing it now if we didn’t think this storm had the potential to be very serious,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in warning some 300,000 people living in low-lying areas.

Some 250,000 people in nearby Long Island were also told to clear out by Saturday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, President Barack Obama warned East Coast residents to prepare for the worst, saying all indications point to a “historic” storm.

“Don’t wait, don’t delay,” the president said from his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where many were already leaving ahead of Irene. Obama and his family had planned to leave the island on Saturday, but the White House on Friday said it had been moved up to Friday evening.

Irene not only is packing 100 mph winds, it is also massive: hurricane-force winds extend 90 miles from the center, and tropical-storm winds extend 290 miles. Up to 15 inches of rain could be dumped across the East Coast by the time she barrels through.

This massive, wet and slow-moving hurricane is forecast to soak a Northeast saturated by earlier rain and may come ashore at a time when tides are unusually high, making storm surge even worse — 4 to 11 feet with waves on top, forecasters say.

“Water is the No. 1 killer,” said retired National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield. “That’s going to cause the greatest loss of life.”

Story: Worry more about Irene’s water than storm’s wind

By 5 p.m. ET Friday, Irene remained a Category 2 storm with top winds near 100 mph — 15 mph less than overnight.

Little change in strength was expected by the time the heart of the storm reaches the North Carolina coast on Saturday morning and Irene should then drop to a Category 1 storm with winds around 80 mph as it moves into the Northeast.

Even as a Category 1 storm, Irene has the potential to cause billions of dollars in damage. At least 65 million people are in its projected track.

“One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast coast,” said Mayfield. “This is going to be a real challenge.”

Rain from Irene’s outer bands began falling along the North and South Carolina coast early Friday. Swells and 6- to 9-foot waves were reported along the Outer Banks. Thousands had already lost power as the fringes of the storm began raking the shore and North Carolina was told to expect storm surges up to 11 feet.

Hurricane warnings extend along the North Carolina coast all the way up into New York City, Long Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Below is a look at impacts and preparations by region:

New York City

Bloomberg ordered an evacuation by 5 p.m. Saturday for low-lying areas that include the Battery Park City complex on the southern end of Manhattan; Coney Island, famed for its boardwalk and amusement park; the beachfront community of the Rockaways; and other neighborhoods around the city.

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