Irene makes landfall in N.C.; 4 deaths reported

A boarded up restaurant is seen behind palm trees as they bend in the strong winds on the Outer Banks in Duck, N.C., Aug. 27, 2011 as Hurricane Irene reaches the North Carolina coast.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Updated 4:15 p.m. ET

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. - Hurricane Irene made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina about 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday morning, losing some power but still whipping up sustained winds of 85 mph, as it continued its run up the Eastern Seaboard.

The National Hurricane Center said the eye of the enormous Category 1 storm passed over Cape Lookout, with winds slipping a bit from 100 mph overnight, but warned Irene would remain a hurricane as it moves up the mid-Atlantic coast.

At 2 p.m. ET Irene was about 45 miles west northwest of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and about 95 miles south of Norfolk, Va. The storm was moving north-northeastward at 15 mph.

Major developments:

  • Paramedics in Nash County, N.C. say a man was killed outside his home by a tree limb blown down by Hurricane Irene. a driver in Pitt County perished when his car struck a tree on the side of a road Saturday morning. State Highway Patrol officials say they were investigating the fatal wreck and were not sure if it was storm-related. A falling tree limb killed a third man in Nash County, N.C. An 11-year-old boy died in Newport News, Va., after a tree fell on an apartment complex, reports CBS affiliate WTKR.
  • Wind and rain have knocked out power to more than 791,840 customers in North Carolina and Virginia.
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers that public transportation might not be available until late Monday afternoon. Power may also be cut in lower Manhattan due to lines being stored underground. Tropical storm winds and rain are expected to begin striking New York City beginning Saturday evening.
  • More than 2 million people have been told to evacuate to safer places, and New York City ordered the nation's biggest subway system shut down for the first time because of a natural disaster.
  • According to Red Cross spokesperson Kate Meier, more than 13,000 people stayed in nearly 150 Red Cross shelters across six states Friday night. More shelters are opening today.
  • CBS News' Carter Yang reports that airlines have canceled 8,337 flights through Monday, and that number is expected to rise. N.Y.C. airports are shutting down for arrivals at noon Saturday, with last departures expected this evening at 10 p.m. Philadelphia's airport is shutting down tonight at 6 p.m. Circumstances at each airport will determine when flights will resume.

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In North Carolina, 269,520 Progress Energy customers and 17,576 Duke Energy customers were without power. In Virginia, Dominion Electric said 504,744 customers had lost power.

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue said rescuers and damage assessment teams are standing by as Hurricane Irene moves across the state.

Perdue said Saturday that hundreds of National Guard troops and Highway Patrol officers are standing by to help as needed, and Perdue said state officials are ready to do a damage assessment once the weather clears.

Perdue also said more than 80 shelters were available and more than 7,500 people used them overnight.

Two piers along North Carolina's southern Outer Banks have been damaged. Emerald Isle town manager Frank Rush says the end of Bogue Inlet Pier collapsed. In addition, part of the pier behind the Sheraton Hotel in Atlantic Beach has collapsed.

As the storm's outer bands of wind and rain lashed the North Carolina coast, knocking out power, authorities farther north begged people to get out of harm's way. Officials in the northeast, not used to tropical weather, feared it could wreak devastation.

"Don't wait. Don't delay," said President Obama, who decided to cut short his summer vacation by a day and return to Washington. "I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now."

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A coastal town official in North Carolina said witnesses believed a tornado spawned by Irene lifted the roof off the warehouse of a car dealership in Belhaven on Friday night and damaged a mobile home, an outbuilding and trees.

Forecasters said the core of Irene would pass near or over the North Carolina coast Saturday morning, roll along the mid-Atlantic coast Saturday night and move over southern New England on Sunday.

Hurricane Scale

Hurricane warnings were issued from North Carolina to New York, and watches were posted farther north, on the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard off Massachusetts. Evacuation orders covered at least 2.3 million people, including 1 million in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia and 100,000 in Delaware.

A tropical storm warning is in effect as far north as Fort Lawrence, Canada.

"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.

U.S. airlines canceled at least 6,100 flights through Monday, grounding hundreds of thousands of passengers as the storm could strike major airports from Washington to Boston.

New York City ordered more than 370,000 people who live in flood-prone areas to leave, including Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan, Coney Island and the beachfront Rockaways. But it was not clear how many would do it, how they would get out or where they would go. Most New Yorkers don't have a car. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says 1,400 people are staying in shelters.

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The city said it would shut down the subways and buses at noon Saturday, only a few hours after the first rain is expected to fall. The transit system carries about 5 million people on an average weekday, fewer on weekends. It has been shut down several times before, including during a transit workers' strike in 2005 and after the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago, but never for weather.

Aviation officials said they would close the five main New York City-area airports to arriving domestic and international flights beginning at noon on Saturday. Many departures also were canceled.

The airports are John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was little authorities could do to force people to leave and warned: "But if you don't follow this, people may die."

Shelters were opening Friday afternoon, and the city was placed under its first hurricane warning since 1985.

Transit systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia also announced plans to shut down, and Washington declared a state of emergency.

Some hardy holdouts in North Carolina put plywood on windows, gathered last-minute supplies and tied down boats. More than half the people who live on two remote islands, Hatteras and Ocracoke, had ignored orders to leave, and as time to change their minds ran short, officials ordered dozens of body bags. The last ferry from Ocracoke left at 4 p.m. Friday.

"I anticipate we're going to have people floating on the streets, and I don't want to leave them lying there," said Richard Marlin, fire chief for one of the seven villages on Hatteras. "The Coast Guard will either be pulling people off their roofs like in Katrina or we'll be scraping them out of their yards."

Some took to shelters for protection.