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Fear and defiance as New Yorkers face Irene
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Aug 27, 2011

Million people evacuate in New Jersey
New York (AFP) Aug 27, 2011 - More than a million people have been evacuated from New Jersey's coastline ahead of Hurricane Irene's expected arrival later Saturday, state Governor Chris Christie said.

"Over a million people" have obeyed an evacuation order and gone inland, including 98 percent of the population of Cape May, an isolated point in the path of the hurricane, Christie told a televised news conference.

He said the gambling resort of Atlantic City risked taking a serious pounding and that a last-ditch effort would be made to persuade some 600 elderly people still there to leave.

"We're making one last run in Atlantic City to try to convince these folks that in fact they need to go," Christie said, adding that no one would be arrested or otherwise forced.

In his trademark blunt style, Christie on Friday told holidaymakers on the popular coast to "get the the hell off the beach."

Irene was expected to hit the urban New Jersey and New York area during the night, reaching full force Sunday, before moving north.

New Yorker Igor Katamadze says he isn't too worried about the oncoming Hurricane Irene -- but that's only because he's an immigrant from a country that has been plagued by war.

"As long as no one is shooting at each other, I'm the happiest man in the world," said Katamadze, who is originally from Georgia, on the border with Russia.

He and his wife were among the hardy -- or foolhardy -- souls defying orders from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to evacuate from the lowest lying areas of the Big Apple.

About 370,000 people live in the evacuation zones, but Katamadze said it made more sense for him -- and residents at the old people's home in Coney Island where his wife works -- to avoid the upheaval and stay put.

"We've got food and water," he said.

Thousands of other people were less optimistic and quickly took up the offer of city shelters stationed in schools and other public buildings.

Coney Island, famous for a bustling fair ground and beach boardwalk during the summer, was deserted, and right across the city some shops reported runs on staples like milk, as well as batteries for flashlights.

At one shelter in Manhattan, about 100 people had taken up residence by early Saturday, some 12 hours before the hurricane was due to hit. They included couples, tourists and two women in wheelchairs.

"We got an order to evacuate from our building manager," said Philippe Kridelka, the New York office head of the UN cultural organization UNESCO, at the shelter. "I came to see what's happening. I have family visiting and we're all here."

In the financial district, where officials fear there could be serious flooding, Kathy Lee, 30, grabbed a bag and headed for higher ground.

"I learned I had to move yesterday by Internet. The building management sent us an e-mail telling us we had to leave. I'm going to the Upper West Side, to a friend's house," said Lee, who works in fashion.

Bloomberg has repeatedly told residents that they must obey the evacuation order, but police are not expected to force people out.

The slow build-up of storm clouds and widespread mistrust of the hype-loving television weather programs meant many New Yorkers were not convinced.

"I'm going to stay here. I'm going to sleep here. A lot of wind, a lot of water. That's all. Things happen," Harry Poulakakos, owner of Harry Cafe in the financial district, said. "Don't worry too much."

Coney Island residents Tim and Gina Abato ordered cold bottles of beer at one of the few bars still open on the beachfront, where wind was picking up but only a few drops of rain sprinkled down in the early afternoon.

Tim Abato, whose arms were tattooed with the mermaid icon of Coney Island, said he did not even consider leaving.

"Sure I'm a little concerned, but if I go somewhere else, I would be worried about every single thing I own here," he said. His wife said they had enough supplies at home for at least two days.

Don John, who lives near Coney Island, strolled down with his sister Ann to take pictures of the largely deserted strip.

"I wanted to see Coney Island like it is in December, except not cold," he said.

The Johns said they planned to abide reluctantly by the evacuation orders and stay with friends elsewhere nearby in the city.

"People are taking it seriously just because we're supposed to be taking it seriously. We'll get a lot of rain and wind, maybe some damage, but that's it," he said.

Ann John said city authorities wanted to take a tough stance after criticism of the handling of the winter blizzard.

"They're just trying to cover their asses," she said, echoing a common sentiment.

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Two dead as hurricane batters N. Carolina: official
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (AFP) Aug 27, 2011 - At least two people have died in North Carolina as Hurricane Irene battered the coast on Saturday with powerful winds, driving rain and surging floods, officials said.

"One man in Onslow County died when he suffered a heart attack while putting plywood on his windows," Tom Mather, a public affairs officer with the North Carolina emergency management office, told AFP.

"Another man died overnight when his car hydroplaned in Pitt County and hit a tree," he said. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol said they located the body at 8:00 am Saturday (1200 GMT).

Local TV station WRAL cited the Nash County Sheriff as saying a man died when heavy winds caused a tree branch to fall on him as he was outside feeding his animals.

Police could not immediately be reached to comment on the report.

A man also went missing after he plunged into the Cape Fear River near Wilmington early on Saturday, according to Michelle Harrell, of the New Hanover County emergency management office.

"It's unclear at this point whether he jumped in or was pushed," she said, adding that a search was launched after the incident but then temporarily called off because of the weather.

Emergency management officials said up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain had fallen in some coastal areas and a six to 10-foot (1.8 to three-meter) storm surge caused flooding in several counties.

A number of people in New Bern had to be rescued from their homes, including at least one family with small children, a local TV station reported.

Phone service was down across much of the state's northern coast, and power companies said some 300,000 people were without electricity, with outages reported as far west as Raleigh and Durham.

The coast is home to some 3.5 million people, but was largely deserted ahead of the storm as officials issued mandatory evacuation orders.

The hurricane is on track to careen up the east coast late Saturday and Sunday, passing over or near Washington, New York and Boston, a densely populated urban corridor home to some 65 million people.

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Obama takes charge at hurricane command center
Washington (AFP) Aug 27, 2011
US President Barack Obama warned Saturday the US east coast was in for a "long 72 hours" as he led his government's response to Hurricane Irene at a disaster command center in Washington. Obama chaired a meeting at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) set up at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, which is marshaling federal and local hur ... read more

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