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Irene closes on New York after battering East Coast

Aug 27, 2011, 8:59 p.m.
People get in a cab at Times Square in New York as rains fall before Hurricane Irene hits August 27, 2011. REUTERS/Peter Jones

Bloomberg repeatedly told New Yorkers Irene was a life-threatening storm and urged them to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines.

"It is dangerous out there," he said, but added later: "New York is the greatest city in the world and we will weather this storm".

Some 370,000 city residents were ordered to leave their homes in low-lying areas, many of them in parts of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and in downtown Manhattan.

But many were unwilling to evacuate. Nicholas Vigliotti, 24, an auditor who lives in a high-rise building along the Brooklyn waterfront, said he saw no point. "Even if there was a flood, I live on the fifth floor," he said.

The hurricane center said that Irene's winds could impact more strongly on the higher floors of skyscrapers.

STORM SURGE FEARS

The Miami-based hurricane center forecast a storm surge of up to 8 feet for Long Island and metropolitan New York when Irene passes on Sunday. That could top the flood walls protecting the south end of Manhattan if it comes at high tide around 8 a.m. (noon GMT).

When Irene hit the North Carolina coast at daybreak, winds howled through the power lines, rain fell in sheets and streets were flooded or littered with signs and tree branches.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Irene's path evacuated their homes, many taking refuge in official shelters.

"Things can be replaced, but life can't be," said Robert Hudson, a 64-year-old military retiree, who sought refuge at a shelter in Milford High School in Delaware.

Two people were killed by falling trees in Virginia, one a young boy. Irene caused four deaths in North Carolina.

In New Smyrna Beach, Florida, a surfer riding large waves kicked up by Irene was killed, local media reported.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said there could be "a major hit" to tobacco crops, poultry and livestock in her state.

Summer vacationers fled beach towns and resort islands. More than one million people left the New Jersey shore and glitzy Atlantic City casinos were dark and empty.

Shoppers stripped supermarkets and hardware stores of food, water, flashlights, batteries and generators.

Torrential rain hit downtown Washington but expected high winds had still not reached the city after nightfall and restaurants remained open, some of them almost full.

Irene was the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008. Emergency workers were mindful of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans, killed up to 1,800 people and caused $80 billion in damage in 2005.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the military stood ready to help. In Washington, Irene forced the postponement of a ceremony on Sunday to dedicate a new memorial to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Tens of thousands of people, including Obama, had been expected to attend.

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