– Irene destroys 90% of homes on one Bahamas island… now it’s headed for US (Telegraph, Aug 25, 2011):
Hurricane Irene has destroyed 90 per cent of the homes on one remote Bahamas island – a brutal demonstration of the storm’s power as it roars towards America’s densely populatd north-east coast.
On the remote Acklins Island, where Irene’s eye passed over Wednesday, nearly every home in the Lovely Bay settlement were destroyed, the National Emergency Management Agency said. Several were literally blown away.
The storm is raking slowly through the Atlantic archipelago on a track that will see it barrel up the US East Coast over the next few days. It is predicted to make landfall by Saturday somewhere near North Carolina, where evacuations are already taking place.
On Thursday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed how seriously American officials are taking the threat as he warned city residents in low-lying areas to make for higher ground.
Irene is currently a Category 3 storm – the same strength as Hurricane Katrina was when it destroyed much of New Orleans in 2005.
However forecasters are predicting that, once it moves past the Bahamas into the warm waters off Florida, Irene will strengthen even more into a lethal Category 4 storm.
As of noon GMT, Irene was packing winds of 115 miles per hour and was located about 65 miles east northeast of Nassau. Once it becomes a Category 4 its wind speed will have increased to 135 miles per hour.
Tourists have been fleeing from the storm’s path through the Caribbean in recent days as Irene gained in strength. Now America is bracing for the storm’s fury.
Officials in towns up and down the coast are scrambling to inspect bridges, sending naval ships away, dusting off evacuation plans and getting sandbags ready for potential floods.
They are also considering where and when to move people out of harm’s way.
President Barack Obama, holidaying on Martha’s Vineyard off the East Coast, may also have to face evacuation depending on the storm’s path.
The US Navy on Thursday ordered all its ships in the huge port of Hampton Roads, Virginia, out to sea to weather the storm.
On Thursday the NHC issued an alert for the entire US East Coast.
Forecasters said they expected the eye to come close to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina early Saturday, then continue north over water toward the eastern edge of New York’s Long Island on Sunday.
It’s then predicted to chug up the East Coast, dumping rain from Virginia to New York City before a much-weakened form reaches land in Connecticut. Finally, it should peter out in Maine by Monday afternoon.
“This could be a very large storm, so we are taking it very seriously,” said North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue.
Bill Read, director of NHC, said the track remains uncertain but that “the exact center of the storm may stay close to the coast on Saturday and perhaps become a big threat to New England and Long Island.”
He said the storm had become “very well organized overnight” and was growing in size.
“It is in the warmest water and a favorable environment so it could actually get stronger,” he told reporters in a conference call.
The NHC said that “interests in eastern North Carolina and the mid-Atlantic states should monitor the progress of Irene.”
Insurers kept a nervous watch in case Irene threatened wealthy enclaves such as the Hamptons, an eastern Long Island playground for New York’s rich.
Forecasters warned that even if the centre of the hurricane stays offshore as it tracks up the mid-Atlantic coast, its wide, swirling bands could lash cities including Washington and New York with winds and rain, knock out power, trigger coastal storm surges and cause flooding.
“We’re not paying attention just to the eye of the storm. We’re looking at how wide it is, how large it is,” Virginia Emergency Management Department spokeswoman Laura Southard said.
Craig Fugate, the head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, said emergency personnel were preparing from impact from the Carolinas to New England.
“This is going to be a big storm. Just because it hits one area doesn’t mean its not going to cause damage further up the coast,” he said.
“The most important thing for people to do right now is to listen to and follow the instructions of their local officials. If you are told to evacuate, evacuate.”
If Irene makes a direct landfall in the continental United States, it will be the first hurricane to hit there since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.
Meanwhile, a new tropical depression formed far out over the Atlantic early Thursday, with the National Hurricane Center saying it would likely become a tropical storm later in the day.