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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tornado warning for NYC expires; watch in place (AP)

NEW YORK – The National Weather Service says a tornado warning issued for the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens has expired, and a watch is in place.

The agency said radar had spotted rotating clouds in a severe thunderstorm approaching the area before 4 a.m. Sunday. The agency says the warning expired at 4:15 a.m. Sunday with a report of a toppled tree in the area but no immediate confirmation of any tornadoes.

Authorities had said that the approaching hurricane might spawn tornadoes. Irene is expected to make landfall in the New York City area at around 10 a.m.

A tornado watch remains in effect until 5 a.m. Sunday for New York City, Long Island and southern Connecticut. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form.

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Irene still a hurricane as approaches New York (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hurricane Irene will deliver a storm surge of up to 8 feet, rainfall of up to 15 inches and isolated tornadoes as it churns toward New York City over the next several hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Sunday.

Irene remains a Category 1, the lowest level of hurricane classification, with maximum sustained winds near 75 miles per hour, the hurricane center said.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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Irene rakes up East Coast, shuts down New York (Reuters)

MOREHEAD CITY, North Carolina (Reuters) – Hurricane Irene charged up the U.S. East Coast on Saturday toward New York, shutting down the city, and millions of Americans sought shelter from a huge storm that halted transport and caused massive power blackouts.

"The storm is coming," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the more than 8 million people who live in the United States' most populous city that includes Wall Street, one of the world's major financial centers.

From the Carolinas to Maine, tens of millions of people were in the path of the giant 580-mile-wide storm that howled ashore in eastern North Carolina at daybreak on Saturday, dumping torrential rain, felling trees and knocking out power.

At least six deaths were reported in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. Several million people were under evacuation orders on the U.S. East Coast.

New York City ordered unprecedented evacuations and shut down its airports and subways, part of a huge public transit system that moves 8.5 million people a day on weekdays. Commuters were left to flag down yellow taxis and livery cabs that were patrolling largely deserted streets.

Irene caused transport chaos in the eastern United States, as airline, rail and transit systems in New York and other cities started sweeping weekend shutdowns.

The Coast Guard closed the port of Philadelphia.

"We are trying to get to Boston and that is not going to happen. We're just stuck here," Rachel Karten said from the near-empty Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. "We didn't think they would shut down everything."

Irene left nearly 1 million people without power in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware on Saturday and energy firms prepared for wider disruptions.

With winds of 80 miles per hour, Irene had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale.

But it was expected to approach New York Saturday night at or near hurricane strength, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Irene came ashore near North Carolina's Cape Lookout around 7:30 a.m. EDT, and then chugged up the coast on a north-northeast track. By 5 p.m., the center was 50 miles south southeast of Norfolk, Virginia, and 340 miles south southwest of New York City.

Irene could slacken to a tropical storm by the time it hits New England on Sunday, but the U.S. National Hurricane Center said that would make little difference in the impact from its damaging winds, flooding rains and dangerous storm surge.

"I would advise people not to focus that much on Category 1, 2 or 3 ... if you're in a hurricane, it's a big deal," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a conference call. "This remains a large and dangerous storm," she said.


Bloomberg told New Yorkers Irene was a life-threatening hurricane and urged them to heed evacuation orders.

"This is a storm which if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, could be fatal ... It is dangerous out there," the mayor said in one of several public appeals. He urged New Yorkers to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines.

Some 370,000 city residents were ordered to leave their homes in low-lying areas, many of them in parts of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and in downtown Manhattan.

But many were unwilling to evacuate. Nicholas Vigliotti, 24, an auditor who lives in a new high-rise building along the Brooklyn waterfront, said he saw no point.

"Even if there was a flood, I live on the fifth floor," he said. But he was moving his car to safety in a higher spot.

The hurricane center said that Irene's winds could impact more strongly on the higher floors of skyscrapers.

The Miami-based center forecast a storm surge of up to 8 feet for Long Island and metropolitan New York when Irene passes on Sunday.

That would easily top the flood walls protecting the south end of Manhattan if it comes at high tide around 8 a.m. (noon GMT) on Sunday, hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private forecaster Weather Underground wrote in his blog.

When Irene hit the North Carolina coast at daybreak, winds howled through the power lines, rain fell in sheets and streets were flooded or littered with signs and tree branches.


"You look outside and it's like nature is dancing for us," said Joe Toledo, who left his mobile home with his wife, Cindy, to take shelter in a hotel in Havelock, North Carolina.

Two people were killed by falling trees in Virginia, one a young boy who died when a tree crashed onto the apartment where he was.

At least three people were killed in North Carolina -- one man hit by a falling tree branch and another washed away and feared drowned. Another man died of a heart attack while boarding up his house, Governor Bev Perdue said.

In New Smyrna Beach, Florida, a surfer riding large waves kicked up by Irene was killed, local media reported.

North Carolina Governor Perdue said there could be "a major hit" to tobacco crops, poultry and livestock in her state.

Summer vacationers fled beach towns and resort islands. More than 1 million people left the New Jersey shore, leaving the glitzy Atlantic City casinos dark and empty.

Shoppers stripped the supermarkets and hardware stores of food, water, flashlights, batteries and generators.

In Washington, the skies were almost dark in the late afternoon as winds picked up and torrential rain formed pools of water in streets. Traffic died down and only a small handful of tourists dressed in rain gear gathered outside the White House.

President Barack Obama cut his Martha's Vineyard vacation short by a day. In Washington, he conferred with emergency managers. "It's going to be a long 72 hours," Obama said.

Irene was the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008. Emergency workers were mindful of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans, killed up to 1,800 people and caused $80 billion in damage in 2005.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the military stood ready to help. In Washington, Irene forced the postponement of a ceremony on Sunday to dedicate a new memorial to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Tens of thousands of people, including Obama, had been expected to attend.

The District of Columbia gave out 7,000 sandbags for residents in low-lying areas to use in case of flooding.

Irene swept through the Northeast Caribbean and the Bahamas as a Category 3 hurricane earlier in the week, bringing floods that killed one person in Puerto Rico and at least three in the Dominican Republic.

(Additional Reporting by Joe Rauch and Jim Brumm in Wilmington, N.C.; Pascal Fletcher in Miami; Basil Katz and Jonathan Allen in New York; Susan Cornwell and John Crawley in Washington; and Michael Fitzpatrick in Long Branch, New Jersey; writing by Jane Sutton and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Eric Beech)

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Irene another test of capital's disaster prep (AP)

WASHINGTON – Already bruised by an earthquake that damaged two of its iconic structures, the nation's capital was watching and waiting Saturday for its first hurricane in more than a half-century, a storm that could test its ability to protect both national treasures and vulnerable residents.

The worst of Hurricane Irene was supposed to hit Washington late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Forecasts called for several inches of rain, wind gusts of up to 60 mph and possible flash flooding. The expectation led organizers to postpone the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall that was expected to draw up to 250,000 people.

But beyond the tourist mecca of the Mall, the District of Columbia is a diverse city of 600,000 with a stark divide between the wealth of Northwest and the poverty of Southeast. And in the impoverished neighborhood of Anacostia, many weren't prepared for the storm — and weren't assured that the district government would do much to help them.

The district is constantly on guard against terrorist attacks, but some residents say it remains ill-prepared for disasters. People leaving the city after this week's 5.8-magnitude earthquake — which caused cracks in the Washington Monument and millions of dollars in damage to the National Cathedral — snarled traffic for hours.

"I don't think Washington is equipped for a big storm or evacuation or anything like that," Melvin Holloway, 61, a retired District of Columbia water department employee, said as he sipped from a can of Bud Light outside a convenience store Saturday morning. "There's just no communication."

Flooding is one problem. City leaders last fall recognized that the National Mall along the Potomac River was vulnerable during a massive storm and started a project to upgrade the system of levees along the river. Construction has started but will take several years to complete.

Built on the banks of the Potomac on swampy ground, Washington has always been under threat of river flooding from a major storm. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review after 2005's devastating Hurricane Katrina concluded the city's flood-control system — built some 70 years ago — was inadequate.

A map of potential flooding by the Federal Emergency Management Agency said museums such as the National Gallery of Art and federal buildings like the Commerce Department could be under as much as 10 feet of water if the current flood-control measures failed. That triggered planning for a better system.

This week, the city struggled to distribute sandbags, with hundreds of cars lining up for up to two hours to collect them. By about 3 p.m., the city had nearly run out. It gave away about 15,000 bags over two days to a cross-section of the population. Many were homeowners looking to protect their basements.

"They should have done it earlier," State Department employee Tina Harris, 36, said as she snaked toward the front of the line in her minivan early Saturday afternoon following a wait of about an hour and a half.

At the same time, Harris, who lives in the Northeast quadrant of the city, which is not as vulnerable to flooding, said it was unrealistic for Washington to prepare adequately for a hurricane.

"We haven't had one before. We're not used to it," she said.

The last named storm to cause damage in Washington was Isabel, which had weakened to a tropical storm when it hit in 2003. The last hurricane to hit was Hazel in 1954.

As for where people live, despite being built on two rivers, the district has relatively little waterfront housing, although certain neighborhoods, including wealthy Georgetown and the Southwest Waterfront, are susceptible to flooding. The waterfront has mixed demographics, but there are public housing complexes and lower-income neighborhoods near the water.

The district will be keeping its homeless shelters open for the duration of the storm, and had also set aside four places for displaced residents. By Saturday evening, those temporary shelters had yet to open.

The poorer sections of the city are always a worry, said Councilmember Marion Barry, the former four-term mayor. He represents Ward 8 — the poorest of the city's wards — and said his constituents were accustomed to bearing the brunt of bad weather and other adversity.

"Whenever there's an outage, we're going to be the first," Barry said. "We're the first, and we get hit the hardest."

Homes in Ward 8, however, are unlikely to be flooded by a surging Anacostia River, because the riverfront is occupied by a park and by Bolling Air Force Base.

Much of official Washington has considered the possibility of a once-in-a-generation storm.

For example, the monuments along the Tidal Basin — including the Jefferson Memorial and the new King Memorial — are designed to withstand flooding, said Bill Line, a National Park Service spokesman.

Line said he did not believe the Tidal Basin — a manmade inlet off the Potomac River walled off by a stone embankment — had ever overflowed its banks, although he conceded it was possible in an incredible storm surge. Much of the National Mall was created by a massive Army Corps of Engineers dredging project more than a century ago that altered the path of the Potomac River. There was not damage by Saturday night.

The National Archives installed self-rising walls to protect the building after severe flooding in the basement damaged a newly opened theater, said spokeswoman Susan Cooper. The walls have worked in past storms, she said. The building doesn't keep its precious documents in the basement.

Pepco, the utility serving the district and its Maryland suburbs, warned customers that Irene could bring destruction and that restoring service could take several days.

Millicent West, the city's homeland security director, said officials from several agencies would be making the rounds in poor neighborhoods to make sure residents weren't neglected. Mayor Vincent Gray said that given forecasts showing the storm moving out by Sunday afternoon, he did not anticipate vulnerable residents being isolated for days in dangerous conditions.

"We hope that the duration of this will be relatively short, which means that people can get back out and get engaged in the normal patterns of life," Gray said.

Ward 8 has a 25 percent unemployment rate and a 35 percent poverty rate. In Anacostia, some residents were making do with what they had, which wasn't much.

"I'm just about as ready as I can get," said Patricia Williams, a resident of Barry Farm, a sprawling, rundown public housing complex. "I don't have no money to stock up on water and food."


Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.


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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After Irene: Authorities readying to gauge damage (AP)

By ROBERT RAY and TOM FOREMAN Jr., Associated Press Robert Ray And Tom Foreman Jr., Associated Press – 1 hr 2 mins ago

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. – Hurricane Irene fell short of the doomsday predictions of record-breaking storm surges in North Carolina and Virginia. But a slow-crawling storm that spread out hundreds of miles was still hurling heavy rain and high winds at a wide swath of the East Coast a day after its first U.S. landfall, vexing official attempts to gauge the full damage toll on the region.

Irene's storm surge had triggered scattered flooding in coastal areas after coming ashore Saturday in North Carolina. It plunged at least 2.7 million residential and business power customers into darkness and roughed up one of the most densely populated areas of the country. Initial reports suggested light damages in many areas from Irene, a lower-strength hurricane when it struck the U.S.

But Irene inflicted scattered damage over such a broad area that the total damage — and costs involved — were not yet known. Authorities also said teams would be deploying later Sunday, particularly in more remote areas, to assess the extent and severity of those damages after Irene, which was blamed for eight deaths.

Virginia's Gov. Bob McDonnell had initially warned that Irene — one of those rare hurricanes that virtually takes aim at the entire East Coast — could be a "catastrophic" monster with record storm surges of up to 8 feet in some coastal areas of his state.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Montefusco said Norfolk came closest, with a storm surge of 7.55 feet. At least six to eight inches of rainfall fell over parts of Virginia.

Emergency crews around the region said they wanted to travel to asses damage from a confirmed tornado in Chincoteague, Va. There was at least one other suspected tornado that ripped away roofs in another Virginia community, Sandbridge. Authorities say Irene also blocked roads and caused other havoc.

In North Carolina, authorities reported storm surge flooding along some inland waterways, impassible roads and up to a foot of rain in some areas.

Infrastructure was a chief worry in the region, where the sprawl of major cities, suburban communities and beachfront properties had set many civil defense planners on edge as Irene approached the region. Ports, airports, nuclear power plants and more lay in the path of such a widespread storm, its storm bands spreading out about 500 miles at one point.

In Lusby, Md., Constellation Energy Nuclear Group said one of two nuclear reactors at Calvert Cliffs went off-line automatically because of Irene's winds. Constellation said the plant is safe and stable.

Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for Constellation, issued a statement early Sunday saying the Unit 1 reactor apparently went off-line automatically when a large piece of aluminum siding dislodged from a building and came into contact with a transformer late Saturday night. He added all employees were safe, though an "unusual event" was declared — the lowest of four emergency classifications by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Unit 2 reactor wasn't affected and kept up full operation, he said.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said Irene inflicted significant damage along her state's coast, adding that some areas were unreachable because of high water or downed power lines. Perdue planned an aerial tour Sunday of the hardest-hit counties after TV coverage showed downed trees, toppled utility poles and power lines and mangled awnings.

As with other states along the East Coast, there was no preliminary estimate yet of the dollar amount of damages in North Carolina.

Officials in North Carolina's Dare County said they were advised there was extensive flooding that needed to be checked out by teams. Elsewhere, authorities suggested Irene didn't create the kind of havoc that had been anticipated.

Bruce Shell, New Hanover County manager, said teams were already in the streets there Saturdaybut found no serious damage or anything else that was cause for alarm. Irene passed close to the county's coastline.

"We were prepared for a lot worse, but we got lucky on this one," Shell said.

He said many of the 70,000 homes which lost power Saturday were back online later that evening. Shell said there was apparently a wastewater spill at Wrightsville Beach, but it appeared to be minor.

Pinehurst dentist Harwell Palmer, 53, said the worst that happened to his home at Ocean Isle Beach was a few pieces of siding that he was able to replace after riding out the storm. He said there was some street flooding, and high waves pounded a pier, but it was still standing. Ocean Isle Beach missed a direct hit.

What did concern Palmer: heavy surf gobbled up beachfront shoreline.

"The main concern we will have going forward is the loss of beach," he said.

The question still facing the region was whether Irene's impact would match the problems left behind by such previous destructive storms as Floyd and Isabel.

In 1999, Floyd dropped at least 15 inches of rain on the eastern third of North Carolina. The flooding was the most damaging in the state's history, topping $3 billion in North Carolina alone after buildings were submerged, roads flooded, and livestock drowned. Four years later, Isabel brought hurricane conditions to eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia, causing about $1 billion in damages.

In Delaware, state emergency managmeent officials said they had widespread reports of street flooding and dunes breached on a coastal highway in Southern Delaware.

One man who stuck it out in Ocean City, Md., though that resort appeared to hold up well against Irene.

Charlie Koetzle, 55, a resident of Ocean City for the last decade, stayed throughout the storm. He was up at 4 a.m. walking on the city's boardwalk and said by phone that he saw at least one sign that had been blown down but that the pier was still intact.

"The beach is still here, and there is lots of it," he said.


Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko in Ocean City, Md., Randall Chase in Georgetown, Del., and Dena Potter in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report. Foreman reported from Raleigh, N.C.

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Hurricane Irene poised to hit New York hard (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The force of Hurricane Irene began to build in New York City early on Sunday morning, with major roads already flooding and the tourist mecca of Times Square abandoned to a hearty few.

Local forecasters said the path of Irene was shifting westward, putting the city squarely on the wrong side of the storm and raising the prospect of 10-foot storm surges. By 1 a.m. ET the city's Central Park had already gotten two inches of rain, with much more expected.

If the forecasts bear out, it would lend some support to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's order for the evacuation of low-lying areas such as Manhattan's financial district. Just across the Hudson River from the district in Hoboken, New Jersey, an evacuation shelter had to be evacuated itself due to flooding.

"Conditions are expected to deteriorate rapidly," a tired-looking Bloomberg told a news conference late on Saturday, urging people to stay indoors. "The storm is now finally hitting New York City. The winds will increase, the rain will increase and the tidal surge will increase."

By all accounts, most heeded his plea to shelter in place, but Times Square still proved irresistible to some tourists who had nothing better to do.

"We just came to see how few people are in Times Square and then we're going back," said Cheryl Gibson, an Edmonton, Canada, resident who has been on vacation in the city for a week and had been planning to go to the other side of the Hudson River on Sunday.

"We can't get to New Jersey and I'm not sure it's any better there," she said.

Further up the street, on a pedestrian mall, a group of firefighters from Vancouver in town for the World Police and Fire Games played an impromptu game of street hockey.

Despite the pouring rain, many played bare-chested, but the game did not last -- approximately 20 New York police officers broke up the game with no arrests.


By mid-evening, one of the many umbrella sellers who pop up all over New York whenever it rains was sold out -- he said it had been a good day for sales, but he was not planning to take shelter from the storm.

"My shelter used to be on the trains but now they stopped that," said the man, who declined to give his real name but said "Call me Motown."

"This is what keeps me going," he added, pointing to the small portable radio playing music in his cart. "Hey, listen, it's 'Walking in the rain,'" he said with a laugh.

While Motown was in good cheer despite the storm, the situation grew increasingly serious overnight. At least 8,000 customers were already without electricity in the city, hours before the worst of the wind and rain hit. Most were in Staten Island though at least one was also out in Manhattan.

Both the Henry Hudson Parkway on Manhattan's west side and FDR Drive to the island's east were starting to flood, with heavy pooling and tow trucks strategically idling on the sides of the road. The city's mass transit system, including subways, was shut down from the middle of Saturday.

After Bloomberg ordered the unprecedented evacuation of 370,000 people living in neighborhoods near the water's edge, more than 3,700 took refuge in the city's shelters, thousands more fled to the homes of friends or relatives and others defiantly stayed behind.

A smattering of food and liquor stores stayed open while the public transit system that moves 8.5 million people each weekday halted operations, also a first.

The giant 580-mile (930-km)-wide storm unleashed 8O miles per hour (130 km per hour) winds, grounding aircraft all along the heavily populated eastern seaboard.

While shelters were mostly empty, others such as the John Adams High School in Queens overflowed.

At the Brooklyn Tech High School shelter, evacuees watched weather reports on a large television screen in the auditorium while others dined on mozzarella sticks, string beans, milk and apple sauce.

"I didn't want to leave (home), I wanted to stay, but I feared for my life. I didn't want to get stuck in the dark and in the flood," said Margie Robledo, 58, of Coney Island, who just arrived in New York from Puerto Rico, where the storm had hit days earlier.


Others defied the evacuation order after Bloomberg announced police would not enforce it. Despite the persistent warnings and ominous skies, the neighborhood around Brooklyn's Coney Island -- within the danger zone -- was calm. Parked cars lined the streets, and there was no sign of a mass exodus.

"They are right, we should be evacuating, but we are not," said John Visconti, 47, who owns an auto repair business and lives on the ground floor of his building in the nearby Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn. "We just want to stay home and hope for the best. We should be OK."

The evacuation zones included shiny apartment buildings in Manhattan's wealthy Battery Park City, working class Red Hook in Brooklyn and run-down public housing in Coney Island -- all neighborhoods at the water's edge.

"If the neighborhood is eventually legitimately flooded, I have food and books and whiskey," said attorney Neal D'Amato, 31, sipping a beer at the Red Hook Bait and Tackle shop bar.

He said he would ride out the storm in his fourth-floor apartment.

(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz, Edith Honan, Basil Katz, Daniel Trotta, Martin Howell, Ed Krudy; Editing by Todd Easham)

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Tropical storm warning issued for Bermuda (AP)

MIAMI – Forecasters say a tropical storm warning has been issued for Bermuda as Jose moves over the Atlantic Ocean.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says Jose was about 115 miles (185 kilometers) south-southwest of Bermuda on Sunday morning with maximum sustained winds of about 40 mph (64 kph). The storm was moving north at about 16 mph (26 kph).

Jose is not expected to change much in strength Sunday and should weaken on Monday.

Forecasters say tropical storm conditions are expected on Bermuda later this morning. Jose could bring as much as 1 to 3 inches of rain to Bermuda, but projections currently show the center of the storm remaining offshore.

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Storm surge may force power cut to south New York City (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Utility Consolidated Edison said it does not plan a widespread shutdown of New York City's power ahead of Hurricane Irene, although it may impose precautionary power cuts early on Sunday in low-lying areas of downtown Manhattan, where flooding threats are higher.

A spokesman for New York's largest utility said around 6,000 customers south of the Brooklyn Bridge were most likely to be affected if the category 1 hurricane brings a serious storm surge.

The decision will be made between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. EDT (0600-1400 GMT) on Sunday, the company said, based on the likely storm surge and the time the storm eventually hits the United States' most densely populated city.

ConEd will shut down 10 miles of steam generation lines out of about 110 miles affecting about 50 customers, John Miksad, senior vice president of electric operations, said during a conference call.

ConEd is expecting an additional 400 to 450 crew members to come in from across the country to assist with the storm response.

The utility said the storm does not pose a major threat to the gas system.

(Reporting by Jeanine Prezioso and David Sheppard; editing by Vicki Allen)

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The nations weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – 1 hr 43 mins ago

Irene will continue moving up the East Coast on Sunday, and is expected to decrease to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds ranging from 74 to 95 mph. The broad and intense system will continue to cause havoc across the Eastern Seaboard, as it moves northward through New England.

Tropical storm force winds were extending outward up to 290 miles from the center. On Sunday, Irene will produce more heavy rainfall with accumulations ranging between 6 to 12 inches from the Mid-Atlantic states, over New England, and into the Northeast, with some areas likley to see up to 18 inches of rain.

While intense downpours will allow for flooding to persist across the region, the dangerous storm surge will produce much damage and flooding for the coastal areas.

Wave heights along the New Jersey shore are expected to reach 15 to 20 feet and a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet is expected near Atlantic City, New Jersey on Sunday morning during the time of high tide. High waves and storm surge could produce tremendous damage along the coast and low-lying structures.

For New York city, the main concern is storm surge. The latest predictions estimate a 5 to 8 foot storm surge at high tide in New York Harbor, which may flood the walls that protect the south end of Manhattan. Additionally, severe thunderstorms imbedded in Irene have a history of producing strong and damaging tornadoes.

The coastal regions of New England remain under a slight threat of severe thunderstorm development, which may be capable of producing tornadoes. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states ranged Saturday from a morning low of 37 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont., to a high of 109 degrees at Killeen/Ft Hood, Texas.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

History of Hurricanes in New York City (ContributorNetwork)

New York City is getting ready for a monster storm. The entire network of its famed subway system will be shut down in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. Parts of the city will be evacuated in low-lying areas to ensure elderly residents will be safe in case flooding occurs.

In terms of hurricane preparedness, New York City isn't exactly on the cutting edge. However, because it is the largest city in the United States there must be precautions taken to guard its most vulnerable citizens. Perhaps the lessons learned from past New York City hurricane strikes have served as a lesson to current leaders.

1821 Hurricane

Hurricanes didn't get names until 1950. Back in early September 1821, a gigantic storm bore down on New York so fast it caught residents of the city unaware. Walls of water 13 feet high brought high water south of Canal Street. New York Magazine reported the only thing that saved the city from complete ruin was that the brunt of the storm surge came in at low tide.

There were an unspecified number of deaths as records in 1821 were scarce. However, the areas decimated by the 1821 Hurricane were far less populated than they are today so the loss of life was kept relatively low by today's standards.

Hog Island Destroyed, 1893

An estimated Category 2 hurricane hit the area in 1893. The storm completely washed away Hog's Island, a resort part of New York City Aug. 22, 1893. No one in the modern age of New York had seen anything like it. Hog's Island was a mile long. A 30-foot storm surge of water completely washed it away literally overnight.

The site where the hurricane made a direct hit is where JFK International Airport now sits. Should Hurricane Irene pack the same punch as the storm in 1893, imagine what might happen. Howling winds and heavy rain may not do well in low-lying areas of New York.

Long Island Express, 1938

The hurricane dubbed the Long Island Express hit eastern Long Island as a Category 3 hurricane on the afternoon of Sept. 21, 1938. It spared New York City for the most part as the strongest 180 mph winds stayed in sparsely populated areas of Long Island. The storm killed 10 people in New York City alone and 200 overall. Had the hurricane moved 75 miles farther west, New York City would have taken a direct hit.

Insurance adjusters are fearful of another hit like the Long Island Express. Now, a storm of that magnitude would cause damage over $10 billion. Other modern hurricanes have dumped lots of rain and wind on New York. Hurricane Belle grazed New York in August of 1976 causing heavy rain. Hurricane Gloria also pelted the region with monsoon rains in late September of 1985.

As Hurricane Irene approaches, New York is doing what many residents in hurricane-prone areas do. They are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

William Browning is a research librarian.

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Hurricane Irene: Mother Nature Clears Her Way Through (ContributorNetwork)

FIRST PERSON | WILMINGTON, N.C. -- The sky had darkened much faster than I had anticipated, the rain slashing in heavy waves long before I was ready. It was only 10 a.m. and I figured I still had plenty of time before the impending hurricane. The news reports had changed so much the night before -- first issuing us a Tropical Storm Warning, and then abruptly after, a Hurricane Warning -- that it was hard to keep up with. I found myself in my backyard, throwing old, moldy toys of my kids' in a throw-away pile, securing everything else in sight.

Monkey Junction -- the name coined for the southeastern area of Wilmington where we live, was a chaotic nightmare. There was much anxiousness in the air -- a dizzy cyclone of people pushing and shoving their way in. People were scared. I took my kids through the motions, stocked up on can goods, and got ourselves out of there as fast as we could. We battered the heavy rains in the parking lot, and amazingly, made our way safely home.

As evening neared the winds grew stronger, the rain falling harder, with no relief in sight. A tornado watch was issued for our area. We watched outside as vibrant illuminations of blue filled the sky -- an eerie, array of power flashes from transformers or lines sparking. People everywhere were losing power.

I woke in the middle of the night at 3:00AM to watch the worst of it. The gusts had reached their heaviest, our fence rattling hard. I honestly thought a tornado was coming; ready to punch through our glass windows. The power turned off, then on, repeatedly. Tall, skinny pine trees shook fiercely in the distance. I stepped outside to watch the clouds move with impeccable speed, glanced across the yard to see large branches of fallen trees.

More than half of my Facebook friends reported power outages. I thanked our lucky stars that our power kept intact. And now as we experience the last fringes of Hurricane Irene, her toes gently brushing against our city as she continues northward, I feel as though nature has its purposes. My backyard is now clear and rid of junk -- the forces of a hurricane forcing me to go out with the old, and ready for a new sunny day tomorrow, as the weather man predicts.

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Maryland warns of dam spillover as Irene hits (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Authorities have warned of possible spillover from a Maryland dam as Hurricane Irene brought severe flooding to much of the region, though they played down earlier concerns that the dam itself could fail.

"Due to the extreme rain event caused by Hurricane Irene, a notification is being issued for a potential Dam Failure situation that may cause significant flooding that could threaten people, homes and roads downstream from the St. Mary's Lake Dam," the St. Mary's County Government website said late on Saturday.

It urged residents in the immediate downstream area to move family and pets upstairs or to a high place with a means of escape, but it warned them not to drive through flood water.

But the manager of St. Mary's River Park told the NBC affiliate in Washington D.C. on Sunday that the dam was not in danger and that water would start to enter a spillway as lake levels rose.

If the water went over the spillway, she said, 28 people could be affected.

The population of St Mary's County is just over 105,000, according the latest U.S. census. CNN reported that the county had already received seven inches of rain from the storm -- nearly twice the average for the entire month.

(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz and Claudia Parsons; Editing by Todd Eastham and Christopher Wilson)

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Tropical Storm Jose forms near Bermuda:National Hurricane Center (Reuters)

MIAMI (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Jose formed near Bermuda on Sunday, becoming the 10th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, U.S. forecasters said.

The Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center said Jose formed about 115 miles south-southwest of Bermuda and was moving northward. It posed no threat to the U.S. coast or to energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm was packing top sustained winds of 40 miles per hour and moving north at about 16 mph, the hurricane center said.

It said tropical storm conditions were expected on Bermuda, where Jose could dump up to 3 inches of rain but the storm was forecast to lose strength later on Sunday after passing near the British territory.

Jose formed as Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, was closing in on New York City after churning its way up the U.S. East Coast from North Carolina, where it made landfall Saturday.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Bill Trott)

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Hoboken orders evacuation of shelter after flooding (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Flood waters forced city officials in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, to evacuate a storm shelter late on Saturday night, the mayor of Hoboken Dawn Zimmer said on Twitter.

"Hoboken faces worst case scenario. Flooding has begun. Moving Wallace Shelter residents to state shelter in east Rutherford," the mayor's tweet said as Hurricane Irene approached the region.

A story earlier on website said there were only about 55 people at the Wallace School shelter in Hoboken as of 6 p.m. on Saturday.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said earlier shelters in New York City were far below capacity as many people sought shelter with friends and family, or stayed at home.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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Coastal towns rethink tsunami evacs from ground up (AP)

LONG BEACH, Wash. – When the next devastating earthquake strikes off the Northwest coast, it is expected to send a tsunami so fast that it could leave coastal communities with perhaps 20 minutes to escape the surge of water.

For small towns like Long Beach, which sits on a long spit just above sea level, the wave's speed will leave minimal options for getting away: People can literally run for the hills, but the first elevated areas are more than a mile to the east, difficult to reach and likely unknown to tourists. Or people can try to drive, cramming roads that could be ravaged by the quake and follow the ubiquitous blue evacuation signs — assuming they still exist.

"If you have a major earthquake, God only knows which way those signs are going to point," said Long Beach city administrator Gene Miles.

Recognizing the ominous options they currently face and the Japan tsunami that displayed the potential destruction, some areas along the Northwest coast are working on plans to build massive hills or structures that could be used to escape the tsunami's reach. The so-called vertical evacuation sites have been adopted in parts of Japan but have never been pursued in the United States.

Communities in Washington, working with state officials and university researchers, have identified a series of about 40 potential evacuation sites and are now working on more for areas on the Olympic Peninsula. Officials in Bay City, Ore., have discussed the possibility of a site in a low-lying area. Crescent City, Calif., plans to use an existing assisted living facility — the tallest building in town — to shelter people who can't get to higher ground in the event of a sudden tsunami.

For those looking at building new sites, here's one glaring problem: The ideas are expensive. Miles estimates that his plan to build a 40-foot berm — about as high as the tallest buildings in town — would cost $250,000. The reinforced earthen mound would sit near a school and close to the city center, allowing people to scale the hill and wait out the destruction on top.

Only 1,392 people live in the town, although it fills with vacationers during the summer.

Costs were a factor in the decision by Cannon Beach, Ore., officials to back away from a proposal to rebuild its city hall to withstand a tsunami and refuge people in upper levels. Now officials there are in early discussions about the possibility of creating some sort of evacuation platform, said Mayor Mike Morgan.

Scientists believe it is only a matter of time before the next mega-quake strikes at the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the Northwest coast. Those quakes, which can send tsunamis straight onto shore, strike every 400 to 500 years — with the last one happening about 300 years ago.

The earthquake would likely last about five minutes and trigger perhaps six feet of land subsidence along the coast. Rushing in from just 50 miles offshore, the tsunami could arrive within 20 minutes.

Oregon's Department of Geology is in the process of reassessing the potential devastation that a tsunami could inflict on the coast. New maps recently produced for the small city of Bandon illustrate potential damage from the surge.

Some people who would be on the waterfront in Bandon would have nearly a mile to travel to reach high enough terrain. And, since the tsunami's inundation would grow deeper as it crashes into higher ground, scientists project that evacuees in certain locations may need to get to an area 100 feet above sea level to be safe.

Officials in Bandon still believe the hillsides are the greatest refuge and are not looking at building any vertical structures. That's the case in many communities along the Oregon coast that have hilly, amphitheater-style backdrop that can be used for escape.

Ian Madin, the chief scientist at the Oregon Department of Geology, said the vertical evacuation sites could be useful in some communities but that steep terrain makes them unnecessary in many areas. He cautioned that the Japan earthquake and tsunami should not trigger a panic that leads to pointless spending on costly projects.

"You're not going to solve the problem in six months, and the odds are that you will have decades to prepare," Madin said. "I hate to see people stampeded into rash decisions."

Washington state also has a rugged coastline, but it includes more lowlands that are vulnerable. That's part of the reason behind Project Safe Haven, a coordinated analysis of evacuations between federal, state, local and tribal officials.

Leaders behind the effort believe several population areas along the Washington coast — including parts of South Beach, Westport and the Tokeland peninsula — are not close enough to natural evacuation spots.

John Schelling, who leads the earthquake program at the Washington Emergency Management Division, said the towers, berms and buildings under consideration each have pros and cons — from costs to accessibility to usability during regular living. But he said the plans that communities are adopting will help set the stage for making a funding pitch in the future.

Some of the early stages of the planning came after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Schelling said this year's disaster brought a renewed focus and helped to engage citizens.

"The Japan event really reinvigorated tsunami planning and preparedness efforts," Schelling said.


Associated Press Writer Mike Baker can be reached at -

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

10 dead after strong typhoon hits Philippines (AP)

MANILA, Philippines – Typhoon Nanmadol began blowing toward Taiwan on Sunday after leaving at least 10 people dead and scuttling a visit by a U.S. Navy carrier group in the Philippines, officials said.

Taiwan issued sea and land warnings and planned to evacuate about 6,000 people in its eastern and southern regions as it braced for the typhoon. Troops and rescue equipment were deployed, Taiwan's Defense Ministry said.

With its enormous cloud band, the typhoon drenched the northern Philippines with rain for days before pummeling the area with fierce wind, setting off landslides and floods and toppling walls that left at least 10 people dead and six others missing. About 20 were injured by landslides and toppled trees, said Benito Ramos, who heads the Office of Civil Defense.

Strong winds knocked down a concrete wall which hit a small eatery in the capital's suburban Quezon City on Sunday, killing a man and injuring two others, police said.

In the northern mountain resort city of Baguio, a garbage dump's concrete wall collapsed and buried three shanties under tons of garbage Saturday, killing two children. Their grandmother remained missing, Ramos said.

Seven others perished in landslides or drowned, including a fisherman whose body was found floating Saturday off eastern Catanduanes province. A decision by many villagers to flee to safety before the typhoon struck and vigilance helped reduce the number of casualties, Ramos said.

In northern Benguet province, bus driver Reynaldo Carlos ordered his passengers to flee Saturday after seeing mud, debris and boulders surging down a mountainside toward the vehicle, which was stuck on a muddy road.

The bus, its engine still running, was swept down a 200-foot (60-meter) ravine after everyone escaped, officials said.

"I was trembling with fear after I realized how close we were to death," Carlos told The Associated Press by telephone.

About 20 landslides blocked roads in Benguet, a gold-mining region about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Manila. More than 57,000 villagers fled their homes there and in 10 other northern provinces at the height of the typhoon, officials said.

U.S. officials postponed a Manila visit by the U.S. Navy's John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group originally scheduled for this weekend because of the bad weather.

The U.S. Embassy said all tours of the aircraft carrier, as well as a reception on board, had been canceled.

Domestic airlines also canceled more than a dozen flights to areas affected by the typhoon in the northern and central Philippines.

Nanmadol had sustained wind of 121 miles (195 kilometers) per hour and gusts of 143 mph (230 kph) Friday, becoming the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines so far this year. It weakened after grazing northern Cagayan province Saturday. It blew by the northernmost Batanes islands with 75 mph (120 kph) winds Sunday and then began moving away from the country, Philippine government forecasters said.

Nanmadol was expected to hit Taiwan as early as Monday, Taiwan's central weather bureau said. It urged residents to prepare for strong winds and torrential rain, and warned there could be landslides in mountainous regions and flooding in low-lying areas.

On Sunday, TV footage showed parts of eastern and southern Taiwan drenched with rain. Strong winds blew a van across a road in the eastern Taiwanese county of Taitung.

Ferries connecting Taiwan's mainland to islets and some domestic flights were canceled. Train service in southern and eastern Taiwan was to be suspended, and two major roads in eastern and central Taiwan were to be closed starting late Sunday afternoon.

Two eastern Taiwanese counties said people did not have to go to school or work on Monday.


Associated Press writers Oliver Teves in Manila and Debby Wu in Taipei contributed to this report.

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Unusually quiet New York waits for Irene's worst (AP)

By SAMANTHA GROSS and MITCH WEISS, Associated Press Samantha Gross And Mitch Weiss, Associated Press – 1 min ago

NEW YORK – Waterlogged and silent, New York awaited the worst of Hurricane Irene as an unsettled dawn broke over the city Sunday. Seawater cascaded toward Wall Street and the labyrinth of cables and pipes beneath it, threatening the nerve center of global finance.

The storm pushed a 3 1/2-foot surge of water into New York Harbor, and forecasters said the peak could be twice as tall later in the morning.

Irene barely maintained hurricane strength, delivering winds of 75 mph, just above the dividing line for a tropical storm. But it was massive and powerful, forming a figure six that covered the Northeast. It sped up and was moving at 25 mph, twice as fast as the day before.

The hurricane had already unloaded more than a foot of water on North Carolina, spun off tornadoes in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, and left 4 million homes and businesses without power. Nine people were killed.

With steady, heavy rain falling in the nation's largest city, there was nothing left to do but wait. There were sandbags on Wall Street, tarps over subway grates and plywood on windows — at least ones low enough to reach. The subway stopped rolling. Broadway and baseball were canceled.

And 370,000 people had been ordered to move to safer ground, although they appeared in great numbers to have stayed put.

"It's nasty out there and wet," Cindy Darcy said from a 36-floor building facing the harbor. "We unplugged the drains, and we fastened anything loose or removed it." She was up early making bagels for the nine workers and 24 inhabitants who stayed in the building, which is in the evacuation zone.

John F. Kennedy International Airport recorded a tropical storm-force wind gust of 58 mph. Kennedy, where on a normal day tens of thousands of passengers would be arriving from points around the world, was quiet. So were LaGuardia and Newark airports. So was Grand Central Terminal, where the great hall was cleared out entirely. One tube of the Holland Tunnel between New York and New Jersey was closed because of flooding.

"The time for evacuation is over," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Saturday. "Everyone should now go inside and stay inside."

As the storm's outer bands reached New York on Saturday night, two kayakers capsized and had to be rescued off Staten Island. They received summonses and a dressing down from Bloomberg, who said at a press conference that they had recklessly put rescuers' lives at risk.

The National Hurricane Center said the center of the huge storm reached land near Little Egg Inlet, N.J., at 5:35 a.m. The eye previously reached land Saturday in North Carolina before returning to the Atlantic, tracing the East Coast shoreline.

In New York, water began to lap over a sea wall along the East River, washing onto a sidewalk and toward the streets. A storm surge of 4 to 8 feet was expected to rush into the harbor just before the eye crossed land, National Weather Service meteorologist Ashley Sears said. Wind and rain were expected to diminish by afternoon, but if the storm surge deluges Lower Manhattan, the water could linger for hours or even a day.

Among the greatest worries was flooding in lower Manhattan, where the East and Hudson rivers converge with the harbor. That includes Wall Street, and while the New York Stock Exchange can run on generator power, it was unclear how many traders would be show up for work Monday.

At 75 mph, the storm was a Category 1, the least threatening on a 1-to-5 scale. It was as strong was 100 mph Friday.

The total extent of damage was unclear, but officials and in parts of the storm zone were relieved to find their communities with relatively minor problems. Forecasters said the storm remained capable of causing ruinous flooding with a combination of storm surge, high tides and 6 to 12 inches of rain.

"Everything is still in effect," National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. "The last thing people should do is go outside. They need to get inside and stay in a safe place until this thing is over."

Irene caused flooding from North Carolina to Delaware, both from the 7-foot waves it pushed into the coast and from heavy rain. Eastern North Carolina got 10 to 14 inches of rain. Virginia's Hampton Roads area was drenched with at least 9 inches, 16 in some spots.

More than 1 million homes and businesses lost power in Virginia alone, where three people were killed by falling trees and about 100 roads were closed. Emergency crews around the region prepared to head out at daybreak to assess the damage, though with some roads impassable and rivers still rising, it could take days.

Some held out optimism that their communities had suffered less damage than they had feared.

"I think it's a little strong to say we dodged a bullet. However, it certainly could have turned out worse for the Hampton Roads area," said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Montefusco.

In Virginia Beach, the city posted on Twitter late Saturday that initial reports were promising, with the resort area suffering minimal damage. Ocean City, Md., Mayor Rick Meehan posted wind readings and reported: "Scattered power outages. No reports of major damage!"

Charlie Koetzle was up at 4 a.m. on Ocean City's boardwalk. Asked about damage, he mentioned a sign that blew down.

"The beach is still here, and there is lots of it," he said. "I don't think it was as bad as they said it was going to be."

In North Carolina, where at least two people were killed, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Irene inflicted significant damage along the North Carolina coast and some areas were unreachable.

"Folks are cut off in parts of North Carolina, and obviously we're not going to get anybody to do an assessment until it's safe," she said.

Television coverage showed evidence of damage across eastern North Carolina with downed trees and toppled power lines.

A falling tree also killed one person in Maryland. A surfer and another beachgoer in Florida were killed in heavy waves caused by the storm.

The storm arrived in Washington just days after an earthquake damaged some of the capital's most famous structures, including the Washington Monument. Irene could test Washington's ability to protect its national treasures and its poor.

Near the epicenter of the quake, in Mineral, Va., trees were down, but the power stayed on.

"I was telling people, `All I can say is we all better go to church on Sunday,'" Mayor Pam Harlowe said. "But unfortunately a bunch of them are closed."

A nuclear reactor at Maryland's Calvert Cliffs went offline automatically when a large piece of aluminum siding blew off and hit the facility's main transformer late Saturday night. An "unusual event" was declared, the lowest of four emergency classifications by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but Constellation Energy Nuclear Group spokesman Mark Sullivan said the facility and all employees were safe.

Near Callway, Md., about 30 families were warned that a dam could spill over, causing significant flooding, and that they should either leave their homes or stay upstairs. St. Mary's County spokeswoman Sue Sabo said the dam was not in danger of breaching.

Irene made its first 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. Shorefront hotels and houses were lashed with waves, two piers were destroyed and at least one hospital was forced to run on generator power.

Across the Eastern Seaboard, at least 2.3 million people were under orders to move to somewhere safer.

Annette Burton, 72, was asked to leave her Chester, Pa., neighborhood because of danger of rising water from a nearby creek. She said she planned to remain in the row house along with her daughter and adult grandson. She kept an eye on the park across the street, which floods during heavy rains.

"I'm not a fool. If it starts coming up from the park, I'm leaving," she said. "It's the wind I'm more concerned about than anything."

Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008, and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005. Experts said that probably no other hurricane in American history had threatened as many people.

Airlines said 9,000 flights were canceled, including 3,000 on Saturday. The number of passengers affected could easily be millions because so many flights make connections on the East Coast.


Mitch Weiss reported from Nags Head, N.C. Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Tim Reynolds and Christine Armario in Miami; Bruce Shipkowski in Surf City, N.J.; Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton, N.J.; Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, N.J.; Eric Tucker in Washington; Martha Waggoner and Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C.; Jessica Gresko in Ocean City, Md.; Mitch Weiss in Nags Head, N.C.; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Dena Potter in Richmond, Va.; Brock Vergakis in Virginia Beach, Va.; Samantha Bomkamp and Jonathan Fahey in New York; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Allen G. Breed in Mineral, Va.

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Hurricane Irene's Path: How Do Forecasters Predict the 'Cone of Uncertainty'? (

You've seen Hurricane Irene's path predicted on maps: lime green states, electric blue water and a white upside-down teardrop running smack into North Carolina. But hurricanes are fickle and go where they will, so how do weather forecasters nail them down?

Actually, they don't, which is part of the problem when you're wrestling mathematically with a monster cyclone hundreds of miles in size. All forecasters can do is estimate with increasing uncertainty as they project forward through time where a hurricane might go. That's what the white teardrop - sometimes called a "Cone of Uncertainty" - is all about in these National Hurricane Center maps. Don't mistake it for something like Irene's "area of effect," it's actually a zone representing the range of possible paths along which Hurricane Irene's eye (the relatively calm, cloudless point at a hurricane's center) could move. Think of it as a visual representation of forecasters' margin of error.

(PHOTOS: U.S. East Coast Battens Down as Hurricane Irene Approaches)

How do forecasters determine the "Cone of Uncertainty"? According to CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen, they run simulations on "some of the fastest computers in the world," which in turn crunch data assembled from radar, satellite and weather balloon scans, reports from ships in the vicinity of the hurricane, airplanes (hot-rod hunters that actually fly into the center of the storm) and weather stations.

"Literally billions of calculations are done with very complex equations to help model the atmosphere into the future," Hennen says. "More than 20 different kinds of models are run - some being more reliable and complex than others - to help forecast the track and intensity of the storm."

Forecast tracks are issued every six hours and take into account the latest data, resulting in the multicolored "spaghetti" lines you sometimes see on TV, detailing the hurricane's possible paths, which in turn help to generate the "Cone of Uncertainty." According to Hennen, Irene's center location 12 hours out is averaging 36 miles in either direction, while at 48 hours out, you're looking at a whopping 100 miles either way.

"This is why meteorologists and emergency managers will constantly preach not to look at the line on the forecast track, but to look at the 'cone'," Hennen says. "If you are inside that area, you could end up in the direct path of the storm."

The site to watch: The National Hurricane Center, specifically the "Coastal Watches/Warnings and 5-Day Forecast Cone for Storm Center" view (or if you want the interactive Google Maps version, the "Coastal Watches/Warnings and 5-Day Track Forecast Cone").

MORE: Worried about Irene's Visit? 8 Hurricane Tracking Apps to Keep Tabs on the Storm

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME's Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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Riding Out Hurricane Irene as She Produces Flooding (ContributorNetwork)

FIRST PERSON | SUFFOLK, Va. -- Here comes Hurricane Irene. Hurricane Irene is headed toward North Carolina and then through Hampton Roads, Va. My family and myself are staying in Suffolk to ride out the storm. Some are staying while others are leaving to get out of Irene's way.

By looking skyward I can see that Irene is near. The clouds are getting dark and enclosing the area. The air feels cool to the touch and the sky looks as though it is ready to cry.

Stocked with water, food, and batteries we feel we are ready to ride out the storm. Gas tanks are full in case we have to escape after Irene leaves. My husband waited 20 minutes to get gas and many gas stations were sold out. I have heard reports of people sitting in traffic for hours trying to evacuate.

This may sound pessimistic but we are expecting to lose power as we have above ground power lines. With wind forces expected to reach up to 100-mph it would be foolish to expect power lines to stay intact.

We plan to sleep upstairs to avoid any possible flooding. Staying away from windows is a must once Irene takes landfall in our area. I have been through Hurricane Floyd, Hurricane Isabel, and Tropical Storm Bonnie while living in Hampton Roads. While on a Florida vacation my family and myself were trapped in a hotel room during Hurricane Jeanne. We were unprepared for Hurricane Jeanne which is why we were on vacation when a hurricane came through.

Here comes Hurricane Irene. You can see her coming as she darkens the sky with her veil. Soon she will be blowing leaves and possibly flooding grounds. At least she is kind enough to give warning unlike the East coast earthquake I experienced just days ago.

On Saturday, Irene is getting closer. The retention pond in the back yard is starting to flood as Hurricane Irene approaches. As I supposed yesterday Irene is flooding grounds. As I am sitting home with Fox News on the TV. New York residents are being told to evacuate.

As of now I still have power although we did lose power briefly as the T.V. went off and back on. Only time will tell what else Irene will bring to myself and others.

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PA and NJ residents scramble for supplies in preparation for Hurricane Irene (ContributorNetwork)

As Hurricane Irene pounds the East Coast with strong winds, heavy bands of rain, potential power outages, and a high probability of flooding, Philadelphia and New Jersey residents scramble as they prepare for the force of the storm. The storm is being called unprecendented in this area, and residents along the Jersey shore are being urged to evacuate immediately. As the storms nears, many are rushing to local stores to obtain emergency supplies in case of water main breaks, power outages, and flooding. Here are just a few of the supplies you may want to have on hand in case of power failures, flooding, or worse.


In case of power outages associated with this storm, you will want to have flashlights on hand. Should you need to evacuate in the night or just see your way through a dark house through the hurricane, flashlights can come in handy. Make sure you have extra batteries on hand as well.

Candles and matches

Candles and matches are also good to have on hand should the power go out. Keep batches of candles and matches in various parts of the house in easily accessed locations so that you are not scrambling in the dark to find your supplies.

Ready-to-eat meals and bottled water

It is always a good idea to have ready-to-eat meals that do not need to be cooked or warmed, as well as bottled water. Should you have to evacuate or if the power goes out, you will be well-prepared with plenty of sustenance.


Residents in flood areas and especially in the Jersey Shore points will want to purchase plywood and board up windows for protection. With wind gusts between 50-100 miles per hour depending upon your location, the last thing you want is to leave your windows unprotected.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Strong quake hits eastern Japan, no tsunami threat (AP)

TOKYO – Officials say a strong earthquake has hit near Japan's eastern coast, but there is no danger of a tsunami.

Japan's Meteorological Agency says the quake struck Monday evening and registered a preliminary magnitude of 6.0. It was centered off the coast of Ibaraki, about 140 miles (220 kilometers) east of Tokyo, at a depth of 20 miles (30 kilometers).

The agency says there is no danger of a tsunami. No injuries or damage have been reported.

Some 20,000 people died or were left missing across Japan's northeastern coast after a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11. The disaster damaged a nuclear power plant, forcing another 100,000 people to leave their homes because of a radiation threat.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Atlantic's first 2011 hurricane, Irene, tracks toward Cape Canaveral (The Christian Science Monitor)

Hurricane forecasters have posted hurricane and tropical-storm warnings for the island of Hispaniola and the southern Bahamas as hurricane Irene, the Atlantic season's first hurricane, crossed Puerto Rico overnight Sunday.

Irene emerges as the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season is nearly a third of the way through its peak August-to-October period. Within that span, activity peaks on average from early to mid-September.

As of 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Monday, the National Hurricane Center's track forecast puts the center of Irene roughly 120 miles east of Florida's Cape Canaveral by Friday evening, with landfall currently forecast to occur just south of Charleston, S.C., at about 8 a.m. Saturday. The intensity forecast upgrades Irene to a major hurricane, with winds in excess of 110 miles per hour, by the time it reaches the central Bahamas Thursday morning. It currently is expected to make landfall as a major hurricane.

RECOMMENDED: Top 10 most expensive hurricanes

Errors are large, however, in track forecasts this far in advance. The track's "error" cone also include the possibilities that the storm could swing west and move up the Florida peninsula. Or it could track farther east than its current path indicates, pushing it closer to North Carolina's outer banks by Saturday morning.

Irene appeared as a tropical storm early Saturday evening from a cluster of thunderstorms some 175 miles east of Martinique. By early Monday morning, the center of the storm had arrived over Puerto Rico. But instead of weakening as it encountered the island, as often happens to a storm, it strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 74.8 m.p.h.

Although a formal analysis will come later, it appears that based on the storm's path, "the island was just too small" to deflate Irene, says Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Irene was strengthening as it approached Puerto Rico, he says, and the storm's path took the eye overland but close to the island's north coast, missing the highest, most potentially disruptive terrain.

The storm's path also left much of Irene's circulation over warm water, so Irene kept spinning up. Forecasters say they expect additional strengthening.

Irene is the ninth named storm in the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season – a season busier so far than were 2009 and 2010.

IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irene

By this time in August 2009, the season had produced three named storms, only one of which was a hurricane. But it was a strong one – hurricane Bill reached Category 4, with maximum sustained winds of more than 131 m.p.h. It spent most of its time in the open Atlantic, skirting Nova Scotia as a weak hurricane and Newfoundland as a tropical storm.

The 2010 season saw five named storms by this time in August, two of which were a Category 4 storm. Both formed in August. One, hurricane Earl, kept much of the US East Coast on edge as skirted the shore from North Carolina's outer banks to finally make landfall in Nova Scotia as a Category 1 hurricane.

One key factor behind the differences: conditions in the tropical Pacific, forecasters say.

In 2009, El Niño conditions had taken hold by July. A large pool of warm water had migrated from the western tropical Pacific to the east, off the coast of Central and northern South America. That migration altered atmospheric circulation patterns in ways that increase the amount of wind shear over the tropical Atlantic.

Wind shear shows up as changes in wind speed and direction with altitude, and when a season's average conditions include strong shear, hurricanes have a tough time forming.

El Niño's opposite, La Niña, appeared in 2010, reducing shear and establishing general atmospheric conditions that favor hurricane formation.

This year, conditions in the tropical Pacific are in a neutral phase, which also tend to make formation more likely than during an El Niño year.

In addition to their high levels of street cred as natural hazards, tropical cyclones also figure into seasonal drought forecasts as drought busters. Drought has gripped much of the southern tier of the US for months, with "extreme" to "exceptional" conditions spanning Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and much of Louisiana. Drought at lesser intensities also span much of the rest of the Southeast.

Forecasters had expected some relief for parts of southern Texas and the Southeast with the coming of the hurricane season. But air over Texas has been so dry that when tropical storm Don made landfall along Texas' Padre Island, Don dropped a paltry two-thirds of an inch of rain along the coast, far less than forecasters expected based on experience with past tropical storms or weaker tropical depressions.

By contrast, tropical depression Harvey, which made its second and final landfall along the Mexican state of Veracruz Monday morning after crossing Guatemala, was dumping between two to four inches of rain along its path, with some locations expecting to get as much as 10 inches.

IN PICTURES: Hurricane Irene

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Hurricane Irene Spotted From Space (

Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, was seen from space today (Aug. 22) as it roared past Puerto Rico.

Irene formed as a tropical storm east of the Leeward Islands on Aug. 20. By early Aug. 22, the storm had strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane. The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported that Irene had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), with higher gusts. The storm was located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) west-northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image at 11:20 a.m. local time (15:20 UTC) on Aug. 22. Storm clouds cover part of the Dominican Republic, and all of Puerto Rico. [See satellite photos of Hurricane Irene]

As of Aug. 22, Irene had cut power to more than a million residents of Puerto Rico, according to ABC News. The Miami Herald reported that heavy rains had pushed at least five rivers over their banks on the island. Citing continuing rains, downed power lines, and potential landslides, the Puerto Rico governor urged residents to stay indoors.

Moving westward to the island of Hispaniola, Irene menaced the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The storm’s worst winds and rains remained north of the island, reducing the threat of deadly flooding, according to news reports. Nevertheless, authorities worried about approximately 600,000 Haitians still living in Port Au Prince tent cities after the 2010 earthquake. [Weirdo Weather: 7 Weird Weather Events]

The NHC reported that a hurricane warning was in effect for the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the southeastern Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. A hurricane watch was in effect for the north coast of Haiti. Irene was moving toward the west-northwest at roughly 12 mph (19 kph), and was expected to continue in that direction for the next day or two.

Five-day projections released by the NHC on Aug. 22 showed Irene heading for the continental United States, potentially making landfall in Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.

Irene is the first hurricane for what has been forecast to be an active season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) updated its forecast on Aug. 4, predicting 14 to 19 named storms (which include tropical storms and hurricanes), seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). An average Atlantic hurricane season will see 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. August through October are the peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season.

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US: No tsunami threat from East Coast quake (AP)

ATLANTA_ U.S. officials say there is no threat of a tsunami along the East Coast after an earthquake centered in Virginia rocked the region.

The National Weather Service's West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said the location of the quake was far enough inland that it didn't threaten to trigger a tsunami on the coast.

Director Paul Whitmore said the center has gauges up and down the East Coast and none of them were detecting tsunami activity.

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Charleston, S.C., Prepares for Hurricane Irene (ContributorNetwork)

FIRST PERSON | CHARLESTON, S.C. -- When you're at the beach with girlfriends, there's not a lot of newspaper reading going on. We're not keeping up with the world; we're here to celebrate birthdays. It's only through social media and the telephone that I learned I'm in Hurricane Irene's expected path. Whether I stay at our vacation spot on Ocean Isle Beach or go home to Charleston, I'll face tropical storms or worse.

Hurricane Irene is now a Category 2 storm with 100 mph maximum sustained winds. According to the National Hurricane Center, she's expected to reach Category 3 strength by Wednesday morning. The hurricane has my full attention now.

My husband called this morning so we could plan. When faced with the potential of a hurricane, we strive to have supplies to carry us through a week with no electricity. He's responsible for finding flashlights, a transistor radio, and making sure we have batteries. Additionally, he'll get our primary and backup canisters of propane topped off (if he can find any propane) and get his car filled with petrol. Then he'll hit the ATM.

Groceries are my responsibility. I went to the store here on OIB to load up on beanie weenies and chicken noodle soup for Eddie, black bean soup, canned cheese ravioli and canned vegetables for me. I also stocked up on fresh fruit, peanut butter, bread and water. These groceries, combined with our Charleston inventory, should last a week. There's already plenty of dog food and cat food at home.

My plan is to drive from Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., to Charleston, S.C., on Thursday. The National Weather Service forecast predicts tropical storm conditions will reach Charleston on Friday, so I should be ahead of the storm. When I get home we'll gather up the candles and matches and fill the bathtubs with water. We'll bring the potted plants, outdoor furniture and anything else that can become a missile inside.

If Hurricane Irene stays a Category 3, we intend to ride it out-unless Charleston is told to evacuate. If the storm reaches a Category 4, we don't need to be told what to do. We'll head west, up to the Ashville area.

Out-of-town friends have called offering places of refuge, so we know there are accommodations available for me, my husband, our cat and our dog. Whether we stay or go, I'm comforted by the fact that we have done what we can to prepare for Hurricane Irene.

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Biden lauds Japan's resolve in tsunami zone visit (AP)

SENDAI, Japan – U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday praised the resolve of the Japanese people in their efforts to recover from the tsunami and reaffirmed the two countries' alliance as vital for regional peace and prosperity.

In a speech at Sendai's airport, which American military personnel helped clear of debris after the tsunami, Biden spoke of the U.S. public's admiration of Japan after the March 11 disaster, which left about 20,000 people dead or missing and ravaged hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline.

"The disaster met its match in the legendary industriousness and relentless perseverance of the Japanese people," he said.

Biden, who also visited China and Mongolia during his eight-day Asian trip, stressed the strong economic and military ties between Japan and the U.S., calling their security alliance the "foundation of this region's security and prosperity for over half a century."

Under the pact, nearly 50,000 American troops are stationed in Japan, many of whom participated in a humanitarian relief mission called "Operation Tomodachi," or Operation Friend, after March's threefold disaster — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Biden's visit comes as China's rising economic, military and political clout somewhat overshadows Japan, which is wrestling with a two-decade economic slump, a bulging deficit and aging population — and now recovery from catastrophe. In his first trip to Asia as vice president, Biden spent five days in China, but will be in Japan only two.

Still, he stressed Japan's importance to U.S. interests in the region.

"The United States is and will remain a Pacific power. America's focus on this critical region will only grow in the years to come as Asia plays an ever-increasing role in the global economy and international affairs," he said. "The anchor of that relationship will be Japan."

Biden laid flowers at the site of a destroyed home not far from the airport and visited evacuees living in temporary housing, where he chatted, shook hands and handed out baseball caps.

Earlier Tuesday, he met with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who thanked him for the "enormous assistance" from the U.S. after the disaster. Kan said the vice president's trip demonstrates that "Japan is open for business."

Biden told Kan that the American public was impressed with the stoicism and courage of the Japanese people, calling it a model for the whole world.

Kan is widely expected to resign in coming weeks or even days over his administration's perceived lack of leadership in handling the triple crisis.

Referring to the natural disaster in Japan and budget problems in the U.S., Biden told Kan that "there are voices in the world who are counting us out. They are making a very bad bet."

During his time in China, Biden had extensive time with the country's expected future leader, Xi Jinping, and delivered a strong message of the interdependence between the U.S. and China, the world's two biggest economies.

Biden also made the case for continued U.S. economic vitality despite current budget woes and sought to reassure China's leaders and ordinary citizens about the safety of their assets in the United States following the downgrading of America's credit rating.

On Wednesday, Biden plans to visit a U.S. air force base west of Tokyo to thank military and civilian personnel for helping with relief and recovery efforts after the disaster.


Associated Press writer Malcolm Foster in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene Affirms 'Magic' Hurricane Date (

Hurricane watchers circle Aug. 20 on their calendars every year. This is the "magic" date when hurricane season seems to kicks into high gear.

Like clockwork, Hurricane Irene — the Atlantic's first hurricane of 2011 — was born on Aug. 22, later strengthening to a Category 2 hurricane. Last year was another good example of an active storm season ramping up after Aug. 20. All of the 2010's major hurricanes (those of Category 3 or higher) formed after Aug. 20, starting with Danielle on Aug. 21.

Aug. 20 seems to be special because around this time, the air and ocean are in just the right state to foster and feed the monster storms. In climate-speak, this time of year is when vertical shear (a change in wind directions with height) in the atmosphere is low enough and sea surface temperatures are warm enough to create big storms.

"Now, storms can get going before Aug. 20, but this is typically about when they start," said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane forecaster at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

This year was typical in saving its biggest storm so far for after Aug. 20, but it was unprecedented in the number of tropical storms that fizzled before reaching hurricane strength. The 2011 hurricane season began with eight tropical storms that all failed to become hurricanes before Irene broke the streak. One reason for the flurry of tropical storms is that scientists are naming more tropical storms than in past years, Klotzbach said.

The last time a hurricane season saw so many tropical storms before seeing a hurricane was 2002. That year, Tropical Storm Gustav eventually broke the string by strengthening to a Category 4 hurricane. Gustav struck Louisiana on Sept. 8, killing 112 people.

The hurricane forecast from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls for 14 to 19 named storms (which include tropical storms and hurricanes), seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

Irene is currently a Category 2 storm, with winds of up to 100 mph (160 kph), and is the first serious threat to the U.S. coast in three years. If no hurricanes make landfall in 2011, this three-season lull will be the longest in recorded history.

Email OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel at @btisrael.

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Ex-Thai PM defends contentious trip to Japan (AP)

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press – Tue Aug 23, 6:55 am ET

TOKYO – Fugitive former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra defended his controversial visit to Japan on Tuesday, saying he wants to support the disaster-stricken country that helped his own people recover from a massive tsunami in 2004.

"I feel like I'm attached to what's happening there," he said of northeast Japan, which he plans to visit this week to view the damage caused by Japan's huge March 11 tsunami.

Thailand's opposition has criticized his visit and accused the country's foreign minister of aiding a fugitive by asking Tokyo to grant a visa to Thaksin, who is living in self-imposed exile to escape a two-year jail sentence for corruption.

"Coming to Japan is my own right," he said at one of two news conferences he held in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Japan was one of the biggest aid donors after an Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, including Thailand.

Thaksin, 62, was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 military coup. He remains a highly divisive figure in his homeland, where he is adored by the poor masses but distrusted by the established elite, including the military.

His ouster set off a sometimes violent struggle between his supporters and opponents that has left the country bitterly divided.

His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected prime minister in July, but many view Thaksin as the real power behind the new administration.

Thaksin acknowledged that he is extremely close to his younger sister. He said they maintain regular contact and he offers advice when she asks, but denied that his influence extends beyond that.

But his sister's rise to power could lead to Thaksin's eventual return under a general amnesty, which would enrage his opponents and could destabilize Thailand.

Analysts said trips like the one to Japan suggest Thaksin is eager to boost his image and legitimacy on the international stage.

"Acceptance from the global community undoubtedly is good PR for him, and he can use it as an example of his rightfulness from overseas when he attempts to win back domestic approval," said Somchai Phagaphasvivat, a political scientist at Thammasat University.

Thaksin, who arrived in Japan on Monday, told reporters that he has no plans to return to Thailand unless there is reconciliation in the country's polarized political climate — something he said was "not there."

"I don't want to fuel any more conflict," Thaksin said. "I just want to be part of the solution, not part of the problems."

He also said he was willing to do jail time if he actually committed a crime, but described the charges against him as politically motivated.

The previous Thai government, led by his political opponents, revoked Thaksin's passport and he has been using one issued by Montenegro.

Japanese officials said Tokyo granted Thaksin a visa after receiving a request for assistance from the Thai government. Thai officials explained that Thaksin's visit was to provide assistance to tsunami victims, said Masaru Satoh, an official at Japan's Foreign Ministry.

Japanese law states that people convicted of crimes with sentences of more than one year will be denied entry visas, but also stipulates that exceptions can be made if there is sufficient reason, Satoh said.

Thaksin's Japanese visa has stirred up controversy in Thailand, where former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat Party is trying to impeach Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul for allegedly aiding a fugitive by asking Tokyo to grant the visa.

Surapong has denied making such a request and is suing Abhisit for defamation.

Thaksin said his sister "had nothing to do" with his trip and offered a new explanation of his visa.

He said the previous government had sought to block his travels by asking governments around the world to deny him entry. When asked by Japan's Foreign Ministry, the new Thai government merely confirmed that such requests were no longer valid, he said.

"So the approval of the visa is totally the discretion of the Japanese government, not us," Thaksin said. "But definitely I'm grateful that they allowed me to come."


Associated Press writers Mick Elmore and Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok and Malcolm Foster in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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Hurricane Irene heads toward Hispaniola and US (AP)

By EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ, Associated Press Ezequiel Abiu Lopez, Associated Press – Mon Aug 22, 4:21 pm ET

SAMANA, Dominican Republic – Hurricane Irene cut a destructive path through the Caribbean on Monday, raking Puerto Rico with strong winds and rain and then skirting the Dominican Republic on a track that could carry it to the U.S. Southeast as a major storm by the end of the week.

Irene slashed directly across Puerto Rico, tearing up trees and knocking out power to more than a million people, then headed out to sea north of the Dominican Republic.

The first hurricane of the Atlantic season was a large system that could cause dangerous mudslides and floods in Dominican Republic, the U.S. National Hurricane center said. It was not expected to make a direct hit on neighboring Haiti, though that country could still see heavy rain from the storm.

Dominican officials said the government had emergency food available for 1.5 million people if needed and the country's military and public safety brigades were on alert. "We have taken all precautions," presidential spokesman Rafael Nunez said.

The Hurricane Center projected that Irene could grow into a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph (184 kph) over the Bahamas on Thursday. And it may carry that force northwest along Florida's Atlantic coast and toward a possible strike on South Carolina, though the forecasters warned that by the weekend, the storm's path could vary significantly from the current projection.

Florida residents were urged to ensure they had batteries, drinking water, food and other supplies.

"We must prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said Joe Martinez, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Officials in Charleston, South Carolina, also warned residents to monitor Irene closely. It has been six years since a hurricane hit the South Carolina coast, said Joe Farmer of the state Emergency Management Division.

Police and civil protection officials in the Dominican Republic made their way along the beaches of the country's northern coast to warn people away from the surging sea. Resorts pulled up the umbrellas and lounge chairs as the storm made its way toward the country. At the Wyndham Tangerine, a hotel in the resort area of Sosua and Cabarete, the staff converted a conference room into a temporary storm refuge for 300 people, said deputy general manager Karen Gonzalez.

Jose Manuel Mendez, director of the country's Emergency Operations Center, said that only about 135 people were in public shelters, but that hundreds of others were staying with friends and family to avoid the storm, which was expected to drop as much as 14 inches (35 centimeters) at higher elevations.

The 100 tourists who booked an ocean-view room at a Puerto Plata resort were moved to another building on Monday for their safety, said Medardo Carrera, manager for VH Gran Ventana Beach Resort, and the hotel ordered its 450 guests to stay inside their rooms Monday night.

At the nearby Casa Colonial Beach & Spa, several tourists packed their bags and fled ahead of the storm, hoping to catch one of the last flights for Miami, said concierge Zadaliy Placido.

The hurricane earlier cut power to more than a million people in Puerto Rico, downing trees and flooding streets on Monday. There were no reports of deaths or major injuries on the island, but Gov. Luis Fortuno declared a state of emergency and urged people to stay indoors to avoid downed power lines, flooded streets and other hazards.

The hurricane was expected to pass near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Tuesday.

Hurricane Irene centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north-northeast of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic Monday afternoon and it was moving toward the west-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). It had maximum sustained winds of about 80 mph (130 kph) with higher gusts, the Hurricane Center reported.

In Puerto Rico, 600 crews spread out across the island to repair toppled light poles, and the majority of customers were expected to have power by late Monday, power company spokesman Carlos Monroig said. Schools, most government offices and many businesses remained closed. Flights resumed at the international airport in San Juan by midmorning.

The storm entered through the southeast coastal town of Humacao, but emergency management regional director Orlando Diaz said the damage seemed to be less than he feared.

"We thought things were going to be a bit more tragic," he said. "I was surprised that we didn't see the amount of rain I expected."

Irene had previously drove through St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where more than half of the inhabitants are still without power, said Christine Lett, emergency management spokeswoman.


Associated Press writers Danica Coto and Ben Fox in San Juan, Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Kelli Kennedy in Miami and Bruce Smith in Charleston, South Carolina contributed to this report.

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Hurricane Irene Forecast to Hit the Carolinas This Weekend (ContributorNetwork)

Hurricane Irene hit Puerto Rico with flooding rains and high winds Sunday night, then it started off on a course that might mean the storm misses the Hispaniola mountains and becomes a stronger system when it approaches the U.S. southeastern coast and the Carolinas later this week.

The official forecast calls for Hurricane Irene to have winds up to 120 mph by the time it makes landfall this weekend. The current track puts the hurricane coming ashore in the Savannah, Ga., area but all coastal areas from Florida to the North Carolina Outer Banks are within the storm's possible landfall range.

Many computer-generated forecasts show Irene crossing inland across the Carolinas and possibly bringing severe weather to the Charlotte region this weekend. It could slam into the Carolinas by Friday, bringing widespread flooding, downed trees and power lines, and possibly forcing coastal evacuations.

Stormwatchers grew more concerned over the weekend as Hurricane Irene changed course slightly and appears to be on a path that will not cross but simply skirt around the mountains of the Dominican Republic. That will lessen the land's impact on the hurricane. Irene has already defied conventional wisdom by becoming stronger even when moving over land, which it did as it raged over Puerto Rico with winds up to 75 mph.

Puerto Rico reported widespread storm damage but no deaths.

Hurricane Irene should strengthen as it heads out over the warm water.

Irene was a tropical storm when it moved over the U.S. Virgin Islands but strengthened to a hurricane just before daybreak on Monday. The National Hurricane Center projected Irene would be a Category 3 hurricane by Thursday and could land in South Carolina moving inland up through North Carolina or could go eastward and land at or brush the North Carolina coast.

Carolinas emergency management officials have just begun preparations for Hurricane Irene.

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