Hurricane Irene update: Major transportation systems shut down

With gusting winds, heavy rains, and major storm surges, hurricane Irene moved north toward major population centers, shutting down public transportation systems.

Jose Luis Magana/Reuters
Hurricane Irene hits Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina Saturday. Irene howled ashore with heavy winds, rain, and surf on a path threatening the densely populated U.S. East Coast with flooding and power outages.

Officials are telling people in hurricane Irene’s path not to be complacent just because it’s been downgraded to a Category 1 storm.

With winds gusting from 85-115 miles per hour, heavy rains, and predicted major storm surges, Irene still has the likelihood of cutting a major swath of damage as well as disruption for millions of people along the US east coast.

Weather Channel analysts speak of “local extreme impacts.” Some 220,000 households and businesses are now without power.

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Evacuation orders now cover 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, reports the Associated Press.

"This is probably the largest number of people that have been threatened by a single hurricane in the United States," Jay Baker, a geography professor at Florida State University, told the AP.

New York City’s subway and bus system will shut down at noon, and more than 300,000 people who live in flood-prone areas have been ordered to leave, including Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan, Coney Island and the beachfront Rockaways.

"If you have to leave, you have to start right now," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference Saturday morning. Meteorologists predict storm surges of 5-7 feet along the New Jersey shore and around Long Island.

As preparations continue, airlines cancelled thousands of flights around the country. The New York region’s major airports – John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International, and Teterboro – were halting all incoming flights as of noon, and many departing flights were cancelled as well.

Amtrak announced that it is cancelling more East Coast trains with service reductions beginning on Saturday and no trains operating in the Northeast on Sunday.

The cancellations include service for the Northeast Corridor (Washington – Boston), the Keystone Corridor (New York – Harrisburg, Pa.), the Springfield Line (New Haven, Conn.Springfield, Mass.), the Empire Service (New York – Albany), the Vermonter (St. Albans, Vt. – Washington), the Northeast Regional services in Virginia and several long-distance trains.

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