New York City's subway system shut down at midday today, as the city prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, which made landfall in North Carolina early this morning and began its expected journey up the East Coast of the United States.
Despite it's having been downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane--the least threatening on the Saffir-Simpson scale--Irene remained hazardous, with wind gusts in some places as high as 115 mph. North Carolina's Raleigh News & Observer reported that one man had been killed by a falling tree limb.
"Watching the TV folks on the beach reminds me; Don't do what they do. Stay inside during the storm, & off the roads," tweeted Craig Fugate, an administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Fugate has been sending regular updates via Twitter at @CraigatFEMA.
Nearly 500,000 people in Virginia and North Carolina had lost power, over 13,000 people hunkered down in Red Cross shelters in six states Friday night, and major airlines had scrubbed thousands of flights through Monday. More than 2 million people along the coast have been told to evacuate their homes.
The transit shutdown in New York marked the first time the country's largest such system had been closed owing to a natural disaster. Yesterday, the city's mayor called for a mandatory evacuation of the metropolis' lowest-lying areas, including the southern tip of Manhattan, a move that directly affected some 370,000 residents. It was the first time such an evacuation had been ordered.
Irene is expected to hit New York sometime Saturday or Sunday, bringing winds of 55 to 70 mph, along with power outages and flooding.
"This is not a joke. Your life could be in danger," the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said today at a briefing on Coney Island. "It isn't cute to sit there and say, 'I'm tougher than any storm.' They don't know what they're talking about." Despite such cautions, the Associated Press reported that many residents of the Brooklyn beach neighborhood that's home to the famous boardwalk were planning to duck the evacuation.