By Elizabeth Chuck and Jim Gold, msnbc.com
Irene is set to become the first major hurricane to hit the East Coast in seven years. This blog is signing off for the night but msnbc.com will continue to provide complete coverage.
11:18 a.m. ET: North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue pleaded with residents of her state Friday that Hurricane Irene "is real, it is headed our way, we are ready, prepared for the worst and praying for the best," NBC News reported.
The North Carolina Democrat said 3.5 million people could be affected when the storm hits. Here's what else Perdue had to say:
On transportation: “We will begin to close all of our ferries this afternoon, railroads across eastern North Carolina will be shutdown tomorrow.”
On evacuations: “We can rebuild houses. Family cannot be replaced.”
On others: "I’m really concerned about the folks who are going to ride it out just for the thrill."
(Source: NBC News, The Associated Press, WCNC.com)
9:00 p.m. ET: North Carolina will get emergency federal aid to deal with the effects of Hurricane Irene. President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration meaning federal aid will supplement state and local responses to the storm. The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can coordinate all disaster relief efforts. It also means the state is eligible for federal funds to help in cleanup. FEMA officials said that through regional offices in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Puerto Rico, officials have been in close contact and coordination with local officials. FEMA teams already are deployed in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina, the agency said in its own blog.
In an image provided by NOAA and made by the GOES East satellite Hurricane Irene is shown as it moves over the Bahamas Thursday.
8:00 p.m. ET: The National Hurricane Center in Miami continues its hurricane warning for the North Carolina coast from Little River Inlet to the Virginia border. A hurricane watch extends from the Virginia/North Carolina border northward to Sandy Hook, N.J., including Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay south of Smith Point. A tropical storm watch has been issued for the Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point northward and the tidal Potomac. Irene, a Category three hurricane with winds extending 80 miles from its center, is gradually moving away from Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Its maximum sustained winds are 115 mph and it is moving north-northwest at 14 mph. It is forecast to turn north on Friday.
Charles Dharapak / AP
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.
7:40 p.m. ET: The dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall has been postponed indefinitely. It was set for Sunday, the 48th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The memorial's executive architect Ed Jackson Jr. disclosed the postponement to The Associated Press in an email statement that said no new dedication date has been set. President Barack Obama was to have spoken Sunday. Organizers had previously said they expected to draw up to 250,000 people. Jackson said the decision was made after a day of forecasts showed Irene bearing down on the East Coast.
Gale Witt snapped this photo as the wave crashed into the jetty at Boynton Beach Inlet.
7:20 p.m. ET: Authorities say rough ocean from Hurricane Irene caused eight injuries including a near drowning when a wave swept over a jetty at Boynton Beach Inlet, Fla., NBC station WPTV reported. Palm Beach County Fire Rescue crews responded to the scene. One person was sent to the hospital. Meteorologists recorded a 53 mph gust in West Palm Beach and officials are warned people to stay away from the ocean. Up the coast in Jupiter, a man swimming in the ocean and couldn't be found right away. However, officials say he later was able to get ashore.
7:10 p.m. ET: Boston is another team rearranging its schedule to avoid Hurricane Irene. The Red Sox Sunday series finale against the Oakland Athletics will be played Saturday night as part of a day-night doubleheader. The first game is scheduled to start at noon; the second, 5 p.m. The Phillies earlier announced a similar change, moving Sunday's game against the Florida Marlins to a Saturday doubleheader.
6:50 p.m.: East Coast refineries Thursday started to turn off equipment and tie things down, activities that sent gasoline futures up 2 percent, The Associated Press reported. "Even if the storm eventually misses them, they can't take chances," says Ben Brockwell at the Oil Price Information Service, which monitors fuel shipments around the country. Sprawling refineries made of concrete and steel turn oil into gasoline, diesel and other fuels. Their main buildings are designed to withstand the forces of nature, but pipes, cooling towers and power lines are susceptible to wind damage.
6:35 p.m. ET: Nursing homes and hospitals in low-lying areas of New York City must evacuate unless they get an OK to stay, says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Reuters reports. He said he will decide by 8 a.m. Saturday if residents in those areas should flee. He said they should move out Friday to avoid a mass transit shutdown. He revoked all permits for public events Saturday in low-lying areas.
6:10 p.m. ET: Power companies and phone services are warning customers about potential outages from wind, rain and floods, downed wires and other damage that Hurricane Irene could cause as it travels up the Eastern Seaboard. "We are monitoring the storm track and our crews are implementing the first phase of our company's emergency response plan as we prepare for the hurricane," said Don Carter, vice president, Elizabethtown Gas. AT&T in New York, for example, said it anticipates responding rapidly especially in flood-prone areas in the Hudson Valley, Albany and as far north as Plattsburg. Verizon said it has operations teams from Florida to Maine and has activated an emergency center to deploy recovery crews. "It's going to be really tough," Karen Johnson, a spokesperson for PSE&G, which serves 2.2 million customers in New Jersey, told The Associated Press. "You could conceivably have millions of people without power," said Matt Rogers, President of Commodity Weather Group, which forecasts weather effects on businesses. Progress Energy, a utility that serves coastal North Carolina, said 1,000 extra workers, will be needed to clean up after Irene if it hits the state as a Category 3 storm.
5:45 p.m. ET: More college changes: Towson University in Maryland postponed its Welcome to Towson program. First-year students are supposed to move in Monday instead of Saturday. Returning students were directed to move in Tuesday. In Connecticut, UConn will start on time, but asks that students not move in on Sunday. Connecticut College, however, is delaying the start of school, says NBC Connecticut.
5:35 p.m. ET: Amtrak has canceled some train service Friday, Saturday and Sunday south of Washington, D.C., due to Hurricane Irene, The Washington Post reports. Service along the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston is not affected, but that could change as the storm moves north, the Post said. The newspaper is tracking cancellations here.
5:30 p.m. ET: New York City-based stock exchanges expect to operate normally Monday despite the potential impact of Hurricane Irene on the Big Apple, according to NYSE Euronext and Nasdaq OMX said Thursday, Reuters reports.
5:25 p.m. ET: Harvard University opened campus housing early for all sophomores, juniors and seniors Thursday to help them avoid traveling at the height of Hurricane Irene. Harvard College Dean Evelynn Hammonds said many students were already on campus. Most first-year students arrived Thursday, in time for orientation.
5:00 p.m. ET: The National Hurricane Center in Miami issues a hurricane watch extending from from the Virginia/North Carolina border northward to Sandy Hook, N.J., including Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay south of Smith Point. A tropical storm watch has been issued for the Chesapeake Bay from Smith Point northward and the tidal Potomac.
Fen Rascoe prepares his parent's cottage for Hurricane Irene on Thursday in Nags Head, NC.
5:00 p.m. ET: Fen Rascoe boards up his parent's cottage Thursday in Nags Head, N.C., as they prepare for Hurricane Irene. The ocean-front cottage was built in 1932 by Rascoe's grandfather.
4:45 p.m. ET: A mandatory evacuation is in place for New Jersey's Cape May County. Anyone on the barrier islands must evacuate Thursday night and everyone else in the county must evacuate by 8 a.m. Friday, reports NBC Philadelphia.
4:34 p.m. ET: The New York City mass transit system, the nation's biggest, may have to be partly or fully shut if Hurricane Irene causes flooding or high winds, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority warned Thursday. The MTA runs the city's buses, subways and commuter train lines, carrying about 8 million people a day.
4:23 p.m. ET: New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday declared a state of emergency in anticipation of Hurricane Irene's arrival. The formal declaration allows the state to aid counties, cities and towns "more effectively and quickly,'' get help from the national Emergency Management Assistance Compact and get federal help earlier, the Democratic governor said in a statement.
US Navy via Reuters
The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower departs Naval Station Norfolk on Thursday.
4:05 p.m. ET: The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower departs Naval Station Norfolk as the Navy moves dozens of ships in Irene's path out to sea. See our Hurricane Irene slide show here.
3:40 p.m. ET: Ocean City, Md., orders a mandatory evacuation for residents and visitors of the Maryland coast resort beginning Thursday night at midnight, the Baltimore Sun reports. Business should close by then too, says Mayor Rick Meehan.
3:30 p.m. ET: Irene is playing havoc with weekend ballgames. The Phillies moved Sunday's game to Saturday, when they will play a double-header against the Florida Marlins, NBC Philadelphia reports.
3:20 p.m. ET: The Red Cross reports that it is mobilizing disaster workers and equipment along much of the Eastern Seaboard and is opening shelters as evacuation orders go into effect. An interactive map allows users to find shelters in their areas.
2:50 p.m. ET: Airlines are canceling flights and getting planes out of Hurricane Irene's path, the Associated Press reports. The storm is likely to force hundreds of flights to be canceled through the weekend and create delays that could ripple across the country. On Thursday, airlines including Delta offered passengers the option of free rebooking for trips to many East Coast cities. Delta issued a statement saying its weather advisory encourages customers to consider departing earlier, postponing or re-routing their travel to avoid possible inconvenience from expected flight cancellations and delays.
2:15 p.m. ET: Another North Carolina county, Carteret, tells visitors and some island residents to leave before Hurricane Irene gets too close, Associated Press reports. Officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for all visitors and non-residents starting at 1 p.m. Thursday. Residents of the Bogue Banks, a barrier island that includes Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle and other beach communities, are supposed to leave starting Friday at 6 a.m. Four shelters are being set up at county schools, which will be closed Friday. The county offers an array of hurricane preparedness information, including a list of emergency evacuation pet-friendly hotels.
City of New York
New York City hurricane evacuation zones
2 p.m. ET: New York City offers a map of hurricane evacuation zones, where residents are urged to prepare for heavy rain, storm surge and strong winds. You can also find out if you’re in an evacuation zone by filling in your address on an online form.
1:30 p.m. ET: Hoboken, N.J., officials urge residents to be prepared, and even make plans to get away. Mayor Dawn Zimmer says, "We will continue to monitor the situation as the storm progresses, and if conditions warrant it, will call for an evacuation, but at this time we are asking residents with family or friends in the area or the ability to stay elsewhere to consider leaving town early for the weekend. This is a threat that residents must take seriously."
1:10 p.m. ET: Finally, some good news: It looks as though Hurricane Irene may spare the capital of Bahamas, Nassau, a major tourist destination with 200,000 residents. While it's been pummeling the smaller islands, it poses less of a risk to the capital.
1:05 p.m. ET: New York's Mayor Bloomberg says the city is positioning rescue boats and helicopters and working to minimize street flooding. New York is braced to experience at least tropical storm conditions and flooding starting on Saturday, Reuters reports; Irene could hit Long Island as a Category 2 hurricane.
12:53 p.m. ET: NJ.com, while acknowledging Irene is still days away, reports the greatest impact to New Jersey will be likely be felt overnight Saturday through midday Sunday.
12:32 p.m. ET: N.J. Gov. Chris Christie joins North Carolina and Virginia's governors in declaring a state of emergency.
12:30 p.m. ET: National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read: "Flooding and power outages and damage caused by trees is going to be a big story as the storm moves inland over the northeast." Even areas well away from the coast from North Carolina to New can expect 5 to 10 inches of rain and tropical-storm-force winds, he added.
12:03 p.m. ET: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says President Obama still plans to leave Martha's Vineyard on Saturday as previously scheduled. Irene is expected to make landfall in the Northeast on Sunday.
12:00 p.m. ET: "This will not just be a coastal storm. We can see impacts well inland," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate tells reporters.
11:50 a.m. ET: Cool time-lapse of Hurricane Irene as of yesterday, courtesy of NOAA Visualizations:
11:30 a.m. ET: NBC's Lilia Luciano reports from the Bahamas, yelling over the howl of high winds, rain, and sleet around her:
Hurricane Irene, a powerful Category 3 storm, pounds the Bahamas. NBC's Lilia Luciano reports amid strong winds and torrential rain.
11:21 a.m. ET: More counties in North Carolina are ordering mandatory evacuations, and the governor has declared a state of emergency for the part of the state east of I-95 ahead of Irene.
11:11 a.m. ET: National Hurricane Center has released a new advisory, warning "an extremely dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels over the central and northwest Bahamas," with rainfall of 6 to 12 inches there. Here's the latest map tracking the storm's projected path.
11:00 a.m. ET: Virginia's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm's weekend arrival.
10:55 a.m. ET: Check out photos from today, including this one from Miami of the calm before the storm:
Andy Newman / AP
Even though the center of Hurricane Irene is more than 230 miles away, clouds associated with extreme outer bands of the tropical cyclone swirl above calm waters of Biscayne Bay in Miami Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. The National Hurricane Center has not issued any Irene-related watches or warnings for Miami or any other part of Florida because the storm's projected track should keep damaging winds well east of the state's coastline. (AP Photo/Andy Newman)
10:35 a.m. ET: Dare County in coastal North Carolina has ordered a mandatory evacuation for all residents beginning at 8 a.m. ET.
10:25 a.m. ET: NBC Virginia affiliate shows how to make a hurricane kit for under 20 bucks.
10:20 a.m. ET: With Irene likely to hit New York and Long Island this weekend with 4 to 8 inches of rain, Mayor Bloomberg said Thursday morning people in certain areas in lower Manhattan, Coney Island, and Queens might consider a voluntary evacuation. The last hurricane to hit the New York area was Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
10:10 a.m. ET: Hurricane names are recycled, but certain names, such as Katrina in 2005, are retired if the storms were deadly and caused extreme damage, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Will "Irene" be retired? Here's a list of the names the National Hurricane Center has chosen for storms through 2016. An Atlantic storm called "Nana" is slated for 2014!
10 a.m. ET: In addition to live updates here, you can find storm-related information and photos on breakingnews.com, where we've just posted this Twitpic from @NBCNewsCrew in the Bahamas, captioned "It's raining sideways with winds upwards of 110 mph":
9:55 a.m. ET: The Navy has ordered a fleet in Virginia, including at Norfolk Naval Station, to leave. The order applies to 64 ships in the area, some which are already at sea, The Associated Press reports.
9:40 a.m. ET: Our partners at The Weather Channel tell us we should know within the next few hours how serious of a threat the National Hurricane Center considers this storm to be. The Center will be holding a briefing later this morning.
9:20 a.m. ET: Damage reports are coming in from the Bahamas. No reports of deaths or injuries so far, thankfully, but an entire settlement known as Lovely Bay on Acklins Island has been destroyed, and at least 40 homes on the island of Mayaguana have been badly damaged, reports the National Emergency Management Agency.
9:10 a.m. ET: An estimated 150,000 tourists are leaving North Carolina's Outer Banks after being told Thursday morning to cut short their vacations, The Associated Press reports. Some had already left as of Wednesday night. Locals are boarding up their homes and businesses.
9:05 a.m. ET: Raw video of Irene in the Bahamas, via weather.com. The palm trees look as if they're barely hanging on:
8:55 a.m. ET: From the Weather Channel, a map of Irene's projected path:
8:40 a.m. ET: North Carolina officials are scrambling to inspect bridges and get sandbags ready for potential floods. The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch for North Carolina's Outer Banks, which means hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours. Further north, precautions so far are mainly wait-and-see as officials watch for developments in the forecast.
8:25 a.m. ET: That earthquake that shook the East Coast earlier this week? That's so two days ago. Irene, which could become the first major hurricane to strike the East Coast in seven years, is what everyone is focused on now.
Here's what we know about Irene at this hour:
- Irene pounded the Bahamas as a Category 3 hurricane with winds at 115 mph early Thursday, causing widespread damage on at least two islands.
- Forecasters expect winds to increase over the next day: Irene is expected to become a Category 4 storm with winds of 131 mph or more.
- Irene could hit North Carolina's Outer Banks Saturday afternoon. It's then predicted to make its way up from Virginia to New York City, finally reaching land as a weakened storm in Connecticut, and trickling off in Maine by Monday.
Hurricane Irene battered the Bahamas Thursday morning, with heavy rain and dangerous winds, and forecasters say this powerful storm could cause significant damage to America's East Coast. NBC's Lilia Luciano and TODAY's Al Roker report.