Death Toll Up as Irene Looms Large; 1 Million Lose Power

Tremendous Threats for Eastern Coast

New York City is bracing for Hurricane Irene’s wrath late Saturday for fear there may be widespread blackouts, gale-force winds, and a rising storm surge. The unusually slow-moving storm has caused a reported eight deaths and has already left nearly 1 million people without power along the Eastern coastline in Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware.

At least 600,000 homes and businesses were without power in North Carolina alone, according to state and utility reports.

“Make sure you know where your flashlights are," Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers at a storm briefing on Saturday.

Hurricane Irene made landfall on Cape Lookout in eastern North Carolina as a category 1 hurricane on Saturday morning and will continue track to the north with conditions quickly deteriorating for millions across the mid-Atlantic through tonight.

For those who have not experienced a hurricane first-hand, forecaster Jesse Ferrell with AccuWeather said, "This will be like a severe thunderstorm that goes on for 12 hours."

Forecasters say although Irene hit the East Coast as a slightly weaker hurricane, it remains a tremendous threat in terms of rain, wind, flooding, and a looming storm surge.

As of 7 p.m. Irene was 35 miles south of Norfolk, Va., moving north at 16 mph. It is packing maximum winds of 80 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Reports are coming in that Irene has caused more deaths. CNN reports that the killer storm has claimed at least eight lives by Saturday afternoon.

Five people died in North Carolina today, according to police and emergency officials, including two who died in separate accidents when trees fell on their cars.

A child died in Goldsboro when the car he was riding in was struck at an intersection where the traffic lights had failed because of the storm, and another driver died in Pitt County after losing control in standing water and hitting a tree.

Two died because of falling trees in Virginia, including an 11-year-old boy, who died when a tree fell on his family’s apartment complex.

The massive waves can be seen rolling ashore in other parts of the nation as surfers are ignoring the warnings. A surfer reportedly died in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., today, according to police and emergency officials.

Meanwhile, authorities in communities across North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland announced curfews, according to local news reports.

Some banned the sale of alcohol. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declared a state of emergency, telling residents to be prepared to go without power for up to two weeks.

Baltimore joined New York, New Jersey and the city of Philadelphia in suspending all transit service, with most service scheduled to end by 9 p.m. tonight.

Utility firms warned of more outages ahead, with Consolidated Edison considering pre-emptive blackouts on Sunday in flood-prone downtown Manhattan, including on Wall Street, Reuters said.

Power was cut to large swaths of Virginia and North Carolina after Irene pounded the coast and forced the Brunswick nuclear power plant to scale back activities.

In other business, oil refineries in the U.S. Northeast, which is home to 1.2 million barrels per day, scaled back operations as a precaution, and pipeline operators warned of potential delays for fuel distribution ahead, Reuters reports.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Philadelphia, a major oil hub which typically handles 1 million barrels a day. At 4:00 p.m. EST it said gale force winds were expected at the port within 12 hour, according to a company release.

The New York Harbor, a major delivery hub for crude oil and fuels by pipeline, barge and ship, remained open temporarily on Saturday, but that could change when the storm surge starts rising Saturday night and into Sunday morning, city officials said.

Defense officials told 6,500 service members to prepare to deploy to storm-ravaged regions should state officials need them

"Some of our most devastating floods have occurred in tropical storms," said FEMA administrator Craig Fugate.

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