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New York, New Jersey and Delaware prepare for mass evacuation

New York City officials will decide on Saturday whether to call for the evacuation of low-lying areas.

Hurricane irene evacuations 08 25 2011Enlarge
Contractors board up a store at the Hatteras Landing Marina on Hatteras Island in the North Carolina Outer Banks on August 25, 2011 ahead of the expected landfall in the area of Hurricane Irene. North Carolina declared a state of emergency as it braced for powerful Hurricane Irene, with a county ordering thousands of residents to evacuate. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

New York, New Jersey and Delaware officials are preparing for the possibility of mass evacuations as Hurricane Irene threatens to cause devastation.

New York City officials will decide on Saturday whether to call for the evacuation of low-lying areas, while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland declared states of emergency, Bloomberg News reports.

The decision to evacuate low-lying areas of downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island would be based on the strength, path and speed of the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters today at a news conference in a flood- prone section of Queens.

The storm - which is threatening to cause the most havoc in the Northeast since Hurricane Gloria in 1985 - battered the Bahamas today with 113 mile-per-hour winds on a course expected to take it near North Carolina this weekend and New England next week, Bloomberg reports.

More than 25 million workers at 1.7 million businesses in 310 counties are in the storm’s path, Bloomberg data shows.

The storm is expected to strengthen later today, the National Hurricane Center said, and could become a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, bearing winds of at least 131 mph.

More than 65 million people, or one in five Americans, may be affected by the storm, which is forecast to snake from North Carolina to Maine in the coming days, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“This is the day that people ought to be buying food, water and batteries,” Delaware Governor Jack A. Markell said Friday on Bloomberg Television’s “InBusiness With Margaret Brennan.”

State officials, already in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are considering closing campgrounds, discouraging tourist visits and asking citizens to evacuate, he said.

Hurricane Irene tracked northwards as it neared the U.S. east coast Thursday, with governors in Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina declaring states of emergency, and mandatory evacuations taking effect in some coastal areas along the storm's expected path.

In Ocean City, Maryland, mandatory evacuations were ordered beginning at midnight, while in parts of North Carolina, including Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks, evacuations of residents and tourists were already underway Thursday.

The state of emergency declarations allow states to free funds and prepare resources that may be needed in relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, advised residents along the coast to plan an evacuation route and have supplies ready.

The exact path of Hurricane Irene remains unpredictable. Some residents of the eastern seaboard, keeping a nervous eye on storm trackers and weather forecasts, have stockpiled food and water, and bought generators in preparation for expected power outages.

More Hurricane Irene news from GlobalPost: Earthquake no match for Martha's Vineyard, but Hurricane Irene?

If Irene continues along its current northerly track, toward areas that do not normally experience hurricane weather, "from a flooding perspective, this could be a hundred-year event," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told CNN.

Christie encouraged voluntary evacuations to begin immediately, especially for anyone on a barrier island or a beach. 

Even if the hurricane does not make landfall, the heavy rains could trigger flooding in some areas.

"The biggest concern is getting people to pay attention and make sure they are ready," Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said in an interview with CNN. 

President Barack Obama is vacationing with his family on Martha’s Vineyard in the storm’s potential path, and has no plans “at this time” to return to Washington prior to Aug. 27, said Josh Earnest, his spokesman.

The U.S. military moved more than two dozen ships out to sea in preparation for the storm.