Hurricane Irene Approaches N.C., Va.

Hurricane Irene has spent the day churning toward the United States. While the eye of the storm is far offshore, rain bands from the tropical system are already lashing the Carolinas. NPR's Greg Allen speaks with Melissa Block with the latest from Virginia.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: We go now to NPR's Greg Allen, who joins us from Norfolk, Virginia. That's just north of the border with North Carolina. And Norfolk is just hours away from the start of heavy rain and winds. Greg, what's the scene there along the Virginia coast?

GREG ALLEN: Well, the people here along Virginia coast, in Norfolk, the area I've seen, Melissa, they're actually taking this remarkably calmly. In fact, I heard one lady asking someone about it. She hadn't apparently heard there was a hurricane on the way. She was asking about it outside of a Target store here.

BLOCK: Where has she been?

ALLEN: One wonders. You do see a lot of shutters up and, you know, the shelves in the stores are pretty much, you know, cleared off. So people do seem to be getting ready here. But, of course, it's going to be hitting south of here in North Carolina. And that's where the real concerns lie.

BLOCK: Is there a mandatory evacuation order where you are?

ALLEN: You know, there are some neighborhoods in Norfolk and Hampton Roads that - low-lying neighborhoods that they say there are mandatory evacuation orders. So it's not too many here and some areas are under voluntary evacuation. When you get down to North Carolina, we have mandatory evacuations ordered for those counties along the Outer Banks, right along the coast all the way down to Cape Fear. And I think along with voluntary evacuation, there's 10 counties that are affected there, so very many people are leaving there. They say the roads have been filled all day long down there.

BLOCK: And Greg, what are people telling you? What are they most worried about?

ALLEN: Well, you know, the big concern we hear is storm surge. As we know in hurricanes, storm surges are where most lives are lost. People in North Carolina know about the threat of that. Here, with this massive hurricane, you know, there's a lot of power out there, as you've been discussing. They say it could be six to 11-foot storm surges along some of the sound. So that's more than people have seen in recent years, for sure.

So they're hoping that people take that seriously and move to higher ground, move away from the areas. That will be the big concern but, you know, that's just the beginning. Then, of course, we have the high winds and that will lead to a lot of power outages, but the rainfall could lead to a lot of flooding as well. And not just here, but up in the Mid-Atlantic states and into New England. So those are the three biggies there.

BLOCK: Yeah. And Greg, you mentioned that people in North Carolina are sadly accustomed to very big and very dangerous hurricanes. Are you finding folks in Virginia who don't have the same experience, just don't know quite what to expect?

ALLEN: Well, you know, I think they get their share here. I think it was just last year we had a hurricane hit this area. And it ended up not being so bad, but as you know, Melissa, we had haven't really had a hurricane strike, a major hurricane hit the U.S. since 2005. It doesn't take long for complacency to set in. You know, we watch these hurricanes that sometimes lose steam. And so that's the concern. People don't take it seriously enough. 'Cause all it takes, you know, is one Katrina to ruin your day, right?

BLOCK: Well, more than a day, for sure. And Greg, as you were heading towards the coast, pretty much were you seeing a stream of cars heading the other way?

ALLEN: I'm seeing a lot of traffic out right now. I'm still in Norfolk, so I haven't really got to see it myself, but this is what I understand from reading other reports.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Greg Allen in Norfolk, Virginia. Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: My pleasure, Melissa.

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