Obama warns US to 'prepare for the worst' from hurricane
Barack Obama warned millions of Americans bracing for Hurricane Irene to "be prepared for the worst" last night, as the first mandatory evacuations in the history of New York City were ordered for 250,000 people.
Fresh from devastating parts of the Bahamas, Irene brought tropical winds to Florida last night. It is set to strike North Carolina this afternoon before heading north for densely populated areas of New Jersey and New York and the states of New England.
"I cannot stress this highly enough," Mr Obama said in a televised speech.
"If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don't wait. Don't delay." Those not being ordered to flee were yesterday stocking up on emergency supplies and preparing for billions of dollars worth of damage to houses and businesses.
Public transport systems in major cities around the region were set to be completely shut down.
The president abandoned his summer holiday in Martha's Vineyard 12 hours early to return to Washington in order to deal with the expected fall-out.
Days after experiencing their biggest earthquake in 70 years, seven states in the region, including New York, have declared a state of emergency.
Winds of up to 115mph are projected to lash many residential areas, while up to a foot of rain is expected.
"We haven't seen a hurricane threat like this in quite a few decades," said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service.
New York was preparing for its first impact since Gloria in 1985. Officials in Washington DC, handed out sandbags and warned residents to expect extensive power blackouts.
Announcing that the 250,000 residents of New York City's low-lying coastal areas must leave as soon as possible, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "Nature is a force more powerful than any of us."
In another unprecedented move, the city's public transport system was due to be completely shut down this afternoon. Mass transit systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia were also ordered closed.
All residents in New York were advised to stay indoors between 9pm tonight and 9pm tomorrow.
Another 750,000 people were ordered out of the Cape May area of New Jersey.
The storm was last night downgraded from a category 3 to a category 2 on the five-point scale of severity. (© Daily Telegraph, London)