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Hurricane Irene weakens slightly as rains hit US east coast

Hurricane Irene rains lash U.S. east coast, with the eye of the hurricane expected to hit North Carolina late Friday, as coastal residents track the storm and FEMA prepares generators and emergency medical supplies.

Hurricane irene path 08 26 2011Enlarge
People fill up bags with sand in preparation for Hurricane Irene on August 26, 2011 in Ocean City, Maryland. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan has ordered a mandatory evacuation for thousands of residents and visitors to leave the ocean front community and Maryland's Governor O'Malley has declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Irene tracks up the eastern seaboard. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Hurricane Irene rains began lashing the U.S. east coast Friday as residents from North Carolina to Massachusetts started evacuations and traffic chaos gripped routes heading away from the eastern seaboard. New York City announced plans to evacuate low-lying areas and shut down the public transit system.

East coast residents stocked up on generators and monitored Hurricane Irene's path via storm trackers. On Friday afternoon, the storm looked set to hit the coastal area of North Carolina with hurricane-force winds late Friday night or early Saturday, CNN reports.

Hurricane Irene weakened slightly Friday as it left the Bahamas, dropping to a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds near 105 mph. But it was expected to be a Category 2 or Category 3 storm by the time it reached North Carolina's coast, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has put in place industrial-sized generators, medical supplies and other emergency equipment at military bases in North Carolina, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the Los Angeles Times says. 

Massive power outages are expected from the Carolinas to New England as Hurricane Irene begins to track its expected path up the eastern seaboard. Even as the tropical storm force winds weaken as they travel along the coast, they may still cause flooding in New York and New Jersey, and as far north as Rhode Island and Maine.

In New York City, nursing homes and hospitals in low-lying areas began evacuating Friday after an order by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, USA Today says. Suffolk County officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for several areas.

The New York Times reports that public transportation in New York City, including New York's subways, will shut down at about noon Saturday in advance of the storm. Amtrak also plans to halt rail service in some areas of the eastern seaboard.

As well, low-lying areas of New York City will be evacuated, including coastal areas of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens, including all of the Rockaways. Battery Park City and the financial district in Lower Manhattan and Governor’s Island will also be evacuated ahead of the storm, the Times says. 

Transit chaos including flight cancelations were affecting areas along the coast including Wilmington and Raleigh, N.C., and further north in Hoboken, N.J.

U.S. President Barack Obama prepared to leave his holiday on Martha's Vineyard to respond to the crisis, the Boston Globe reports. Obama said the storm was shaping up as a "historic hurricane."

"Don't wait. Don't delay," Obama urged residents along the coast. "We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst."

More from GlobalPost: New York, New Jersey and Delaware prepare for mass evacuation

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

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/110826/hurricane-irene-path-amtrak-fema-storm-tracker-hits-coast