Long Island’s hurricane watch was upgraded into a warning Friday evening as Irene barrels down on the area.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, Hurricane Irene was still a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is expected to weaken as it hits North Carolina’s coast.
Meteorologists expect Irene to take a turn toward the north-northeast Friday night into early Saturday. This will take the eye of the storm somewhere in central Suffolk County.
Outer bands from Irene will start to arrive Saturday afternoon, but the brunt of the storm will hit Long Island late Saturday night into Sunday afternoon, bringing damaging winds, torrential rain that could amount to 6 to 12 inches, likely causing significant coastal flooding and beach erosion.
Meteorologists warn that based on recent heavy rains, moderate to major river flooding is likely along with significant and widespread urban and poor drainage flooding.
Major coastal flooding could occur if the greatest surge coincides with the times of high tides Sunday morning and/or Sunday evening.
Irene is a large storm, with hurricane force winds that extend outward up to 90 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds that extend 290 miles.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano ordered mandatory evacuations 5 p.m. Saturday of residents living south of Sunrise Highway west of Rockville Center and south of Merrick Road east of Baldwin. Same goes for those living on the North Shore that reside in low lying areas and storm surge zones.
Meanwhile, Suffolk County officials urged residents to prepare for mandatory evacuations that Saturday, including approximately 70,000 residents in the Town of Brookhaven and another 15,000 Town of Islip residents living in flood zones.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko also ordered mandatory evacuations for some North Shore residents.
Eleven shelters will be open tomorrow in Suffolk, up from the five shelters the county announced earlier. Those include: Riverhead High School, Robert Frost Middle School in Deer Park, Brentwood High School, Long Wood Senior High School in Brookhaven, Eastport South Manor Junior and Senior High School, East Hampton High School, Walt Whitman High School in Huntington, North Babylon High School, Hamptons Bay High School, Sachem East High School and Riverhead Middle School.
Officials ordered the evacuation of the 17 communities on Fire Island Friday. Ferry service is likely to end at 3 to 4 p.m. Saturday, or sooner depending on storm conditions, officials said.
Under the mandatory evacuation, ferry service to the barrier beach communities will only allow homeowners over to Fire Island in order for them to secure their homes, officials said.
Suffolk County health officials cautioned against swimming at ocean beaches, where rough surf already kicked up by the approaching storm Friday could prove dangerous.
Southampton police advised residents in low lying areas within a half mile of the ocean or bay to plan to evacuate, and added that the course of the storm may require a mandatory evacuation for these areas on Saturday morning.
Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip and Southside Hospital in Bay Shore have both been evacuated. Patients were being moved to other area hospitals.
Long Island Power Authority officials have been closely monitoring the storm, and are preparing for the extra workload.
LIPA employees have been put on notice for extended hours, and vacations have been canceled, a spokeswoman for the utility company said. She said approximately 510 on-island electric high voltage and tree removal personnel, which includes contractors, have been notified to help with the possible storm damage. LIPA also called in more than 500 off-island personnel to help with the storm, she said.
“We’re coordinating efforts with the state, New York City, county and local emergency management organizations,” the spokeswoman said. Residents can also check for updates on LIPA’s and call 1-800-490-0075 to report an outage.
National Grid has activated its storm emergency plan, which includes calling in extra crews, pre-staging crews and and monitoring natural gas facilities for and potential isolation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the Metropolitan Tra Transit Authority will institute a system-wide shutdown when trains and buses begin their final runs starting at approximately noon. This includes the Long Island Rail Road, Long Island Bus, Metro-North Railroad and Access-A-Ride. Suffolk County Transit buses will also be suspended Saturday.
More than 900 National Guard soldiers and more than 100 vehicles will head to the Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island Saturday to assist in the response to Hurricane Irene. Cuomo is directing 230 soldiers with vehicles and satellite communications to Long Island by Saturday evening.
The last hurricane to hit Long Island was Gloria in 1985. In 1991 Hurricane Bob brushed past Montauk but did not make direct landfall. The last time New York City had a hurricane warning was in 1985, ahead of Gloria.
The last time an eye of a storm passed over New York City itself was during a Category 1 hurricane in 1893. A speck of land off Long Island, called Hog Island, was completely washed away.
Residents were also taking preemptive measures for the storm, with many swarming local supermarkets.
“I’m just going to get water, everyone’s going crazy but I don’t know what to expect,” Susanne of Massapequa said outside the crowded King Kullen in Syosset. “I’m trying to stock up but I don’t know what you’re supposed to get.”