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Hurricane Irene Begins Vicious Churn Up East Coast

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Hurricane Irene touched down in North Carolina on Saturday morning and has been making its way up the coast. Host Laura Sullivan speaks with NPR's Greg Allen from the Outer Banks of North Carolina and NPR's Nate Rott from Maryland's Eastern Shore.

LAURA SULLIVAN, host: This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan, in for Guy Raz.


SULLIVAN: That's Hurricane Irene pounding the coast of North Carolina at Kill Devil Hills, starting its vicious churn up the East Coast. Two million Americans told to evacuate; another million have lost power; more than 9,000 flights canceled. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg shut down New York City's subway because of weather, for the first time in history.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: This is not a joke. And let's hope that it isn't as bad as we're preparing for.

SULLIVAN: Irene's moving back over the Atlantic now, right around the Virginia-North Carolina border. It's a Category 1 hurricane with maximum winds of 80 miles an hour. And at least five deaths, so far, have been reported, including a Florida surfer caught in waves spawned by the storm.

Over the next few minutes, we'll hear from our reporters along the East Coast, starting with NPR's Greg Allen in the town of Manteo, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Greg, tell us what you're seeing there.

GREG ALLEN: Well, Laura, we're onto the tail end of the storm here. The winds have dropped a lot in the last couple hours. I mean, we've been living with this storm for 24 hours now. It's been raining for that long. The rain is still with us - not as hard as it was earlier. But we've had a lot of accumulation of rainfall over the last day.

The winds now are just - you know - down probably, 20, 30 miles per hour with some higher gusts. But that's very doable after the higher winds we had today. We've got lots of tree limbs down throughout the area; power's out for many people. But in this area on the Outer Banks, we came through it relatively unscathed, with not that much damage.

SULLIVAN: And Greg, there have been a few hurricane-related deaths so far. What can you tell us about the ones in North Carolina?

ALLEN: Well, I think there was - one of them was from a man who was putting up his plywood over his windows, and he had a heart attack. A couple of them were from tree limbs falling on people. One man was out feeding his animals; a tree limb fell on him. And I think another one was a traffic accident that involved a tree limb, too. So those are the kinds of things, these kind of secondary things, that happened as part of the preparation, and being out out during the storm.

SULLIVAN: And already, more than 350,000 people have lost power in North Carolina alone. Any word yet on how long the power might be out?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it varies for each case. I was talking to a city official in New Bern, where 90 percent of the city of 30,000 lost their power. They lost power over almost every circuit in town but one. And they thought they could get them all restored by this evening, but it's a town that's had a lot of flooding. So they can't get there until the floodwaters recede. And the tree limbs being down stopped them from getting out as well. So everything - you know - makes things slower. So optimistically, they think they'll get their power back tonight. But practically speaking, it might not be until tomorrow.

SULLIVAN: NPR's Greg Allen in Manteo, North Carolina. Stay safe, Greg.

ALLEN: Thank you, Laura.

SULLIVAN: Let's turn now to NPR's Nate Rott. He's ahead of the storm, in Ocean City, Maryland, where the storm is expected to pass overnight. Nate, how do things look out there?

NATE ROTT: Well, it's getting progressively worse. I'm standing outside, a couple hundred feet away from the Atlantic beach. And the ocean is just roiling - huge waves, definitely the biggest waves I've ever seen, just crashing into the beach. Craziest part there is about that, is that they're expecting a 6- to 8-foot storm surge later tonight, when the hurricane actually hits, around 1 a.m. So the beach that I'm looking at will be completely inundated when that happens.

They're also expecting 17 inches of rain; the city streets are already flooded with a couple of inches of rain as it stands right now, so it's just going to continue to get worse.

SULLIVAN: Now, I understand more than 300,000 people, typically, crowd Ocean City on a summer weekend. But there has been a mandatory evacuation order. Are folks getting out?

ROTT: Well, for the most part, yeah. You know, stores are closed down, buildings are boarded up. There's an amusement park, actually, just across the way and it's been stripped bare. The Ferris wheel there has no seats or anything. But some people have chosen to stay. I spoke with some city officials and the city mayor earlier today, and he said they have identified about 300 people who have chosen to stay in the city.

Martin O'Malley, the state's governor, actually came out the other day and said it was selfish of them to stay and the mayor, Rick Meehan, agreed.

Mayor RICK MEEHAN: I don't think it was a very smart decision, so what I would ask them to do is now make a smart decision and stay inside. If you did stay here in Ocean City, stay inside. Don't go out into the elements. There's nothing to be gained by that.

ROTT: The mayor even went as far as to say - to give a bigger warning and say that when the storm actually hits - and that's supposed to be from 1 to 3 o'clock - for those couple of hours in the early morning, emergency responders are not going to take any calls. They're actually going to ground all EMS units here because it's just too dangerous for them to go out.

SULLIVAN: That's NPR's Nate Rott in Ocean City, Maryland. Nate, be careful out there.

ROTT: Will do.

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