Hurricane watch from Surf City, N.C., to Virginia, as Irene expands reach (VIDEO)
Coastal residents from Surf City, N.C., to the Virginia border should be ready for hurricane conditions within 48 hours, forecasters said Thursday morning. Irene is still a Category 3 hurricane, but it has broadened.
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Evacuation orders are being implemented along the North Carolina coast, and they may be required for additional stretches of coastline to the north because of the changes to Irene's forecast track, according to Craig Fugate, who heads the Federal Emergency Management Agency.Skip to next paragraph
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Heeding those orders not only can save the lives of evacuees, he notes, but also can safeguard the lives of rescue crews who otherwise might be sent out because conditions are too dangerous to effect a rescue.
During a briefing Thursday, Mr. Fugate recalled overhearing poignant 911 calls during hurricane Ivan in 2004, when he was still head of Florida's Division of Emergency Management. People either tried to ride out the storm or waited too long to leave in hopes of a favorable change in the forecast.
"The roads are cut off, they are not passable, we have almost hurricane-force winds, the water's coming up, and they're calling 911 begging to be saved. And nobody can get to them," he said. Or, under other conditions, "we have to put responders in harm's way while the storm is still active, trying to get to people."
The take-home message: If a home survived the last storm unscathed, it's unwise to expect the same results with a new storm.
If evacuations could be limited "only to the folks who we actually knew would flood, we'd do it," he says. But the forecasting tools aren't up to that task, so broad areas must undergo evacuation, he says.
After Irene clears North Carolina, it's expected to gradually weaken as it encounters colder sea water, disruptive wind shear at high altitudes, and the coast itself. The current path forecast puts up to half of the storm's expanse over land as it heads toward its final landfall.
With Irene's nudge to the west, bringing it closer to the coast when it leaves North Carolina in its wake, the risk of inland flooding has increased along the mid-Atlantic states and into New England. Many places could see rainfall ranging from 5 to 10 inches, according to National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read.
If the current track holds, the storm's girth makes inland flooding "a virtual certainty," he says. Tropical-storm-force winds, with gusts of hurricane strength, are likely to last for hours in coastal regions.
Residents inland are being asked to prepare for flooding and widespread power outages.
In addition to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, FEMA is also stagging supplies for regional use at Westover Air Force Base in western Massachusetts and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. The supplies range form industrial-grade generators and bottled water to food and medical goods.
Meanwhile, forecasters are now tracking tropical depression 10 – a storm system just short of earning a name – located in the central tropical Atlantic.