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At least 20 dead after Hurricane Irene lands

Emergency officials said at least 20 people across the United States may have died as a result of Hurricane Irene.

Hurrican irene 3Enlarge
The Hudson River churns under the early effects of Hurricane Irene August 28, 2011 in New York City. Hurricane Irene made a second landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey early Sunday morning, battering the northeast with high winds and rain. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Atleast 20 people have died as a result of Hurricane Irene, which knocked out power and piers and and churned up the U.S. east coast, according to emergency officials.  

New York City — potentially in the path of the storm — emptied its streets and subways and waited, AFP reports.

For the first time, transportation has been shut down in the city due to a natural disaster.

At least 2.3 million were told to immediately evacuate.

The hurricane had an enormous 800-kilometer wingspan and packed wind gusts of 115 miles/h, knocking out power to 900,000 homes and businesses along the east coast, AP reports.

By the time Irene reached New York city on Sunday morning, it had been downgraded to a high-end tropical storm.  According to the New York Times, within the city, damage was minimal.  

The five main New York-area airports - La Guardia, JFK and Newark, plus two smaller ones — had their last arriving flights about noon Saturday. Professional sports events were postponed and Broadway theaters were dark.

Although it was too early to assess the full threat, Irene was blamed for twenty deaths and is the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008.

An 11-year-old boy died in Virginia when a tree fell on his apartment building, while a 15-year-old girl died in North Carolina in a car crash when the traffic lights failed.

Five of the deaths were in North Carolina, where Irene made landfall early on Saturday morning, before heading up the eastern seaboard.

AP reports:

The hurricane stirred up seven-foot waves, and forecasters warned of storm-surge danger on the coasts of Virginia and Delaware, along the Jersey Shore and in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. Across the Northeast, drenched by rain this summer, the ground is already saturated, raising the risk of flooding as well as the danger of trees falling onto homes and power lines.

Irene made its official landfall just after first light near Cape Lookout, N.C., at the southern end of the Outer Banks, the ribbon of land that bows out into the Atlantic Ocean. While it was too early to assess the full extent of damage, shorefront hotels and houses were lashed with waves, two piers were destroyed and at least one hospital was forced to run on generator power.
 

Two men were killed in separate incidents in North Carolina when they were hit by flying tree limb, another person died in the state in a car accident, a passenger died when a tree fell on in a car in Virginia and a surfer in Florida was killed in heavy waves.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told 6500 troops to prepare for emergency relief work, and President Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's command center in Washington.

"It's going to be a long 72 hours," he said, "and obviously a lot of families are going to be affected."

On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates near the East River because of fear of flooding and Manhattan appeared near deserted.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers that elevators in public housing would be shut down, and elevators in some high-rises would quit working so people don't get trapped if the power goes out.

"The time to leave is right now," Bloomberg said at an outdoor news conference at Coney Island, his shirt soaked from rain.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/110827/eight-dead-hurricane-irene-0