The U.S. East Coast braced on Saturday to take a direct hit from Hurricane Henri as it threatened to pound the region with fierce winds and heavy rains that could cause “life-threatening” storm surge and flooding, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
As of the afternoon, the storm was gathering strength, packing 120 km/h winds while it moved north about 290 kilometres east of North Carolina. On its current track, Henri was expected to make landfall in Long Island, N.Y., or southern New England on Sunday evening, the centre said in an advisory.
Henri was expected to hit as Mexico was pummelled by Hurricane Grace, killing several people, before weakening to a tropical storm.
Canada’s East Coast is expected to feel some of the impacts of the storm, but Henri won’t likely be a big threat for the Maritimes.
In the U.S. East, more than 42 million people were under a hurricane or tropical storm warning, the NHC said.
Parts of Long Island and New Haven, Conn., were under hurricane and storm surge warnings. Other parts of New England, such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, were under surge and tropical storm watches and warnings.
“This is a life-threatening situation. Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions,” the NHC said.
Evacuations urged off Long Island coast
New York City was under a tropical storm warning. Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents in a Twitter post to stay home on Sunday and to use public transportation if they need to travel.
Residents and visitors on Fire Island, a narrow strip of sandy villages barely above sea level off Long Island’s southern coast, were urged to evacuate. The last boats out will leave at 10:40 p.m. ET Saturday; after that, officials said, there may be no way out for people who decide to ride out the storm.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pleaded with New York residents to make last-minute preparations.
“We have short notice. We’re talking about tomorrow [Sunday],” Cuomo said. “So if you have to move, if you have to stock up, if you have to get to higher ground, it has to be today. Please.”
A satellite image taken Friday at 11:40 a.m. ET shows Henri in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s expected to intensify into a hurricane by Saturday, and the impact could be felt in parts of the U.S. East Coast by Sunday. (NOAA/The Associated Press)
Service on some eastern branches of the Long Island Rail Road, a major commuter rail system, will be suspended at midnight, said Cuomo, who will leave office in two days in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.
Emergency management officials said heavy rainfall and damaging winds could flood roadways and reduce visibility throughout the weekend.
“Secure outdoor objects and make sure you are in a safe location before the onset of wind and rain!,” John Scrivani, New York City’s emergency management commissioner, wrote in an tweet on Saturday.
The centre warned that Henri could produce storm surges of one to 1.5 metres along the coast in New England, 120 km/h or higher wind gusts and rains of 76 to 152 millimetres, with 254 millimetres in isolated areas.
Shelves emptied, long gas station lines
In the tiny Hampton hamlet of Amagansett, N.Y., home to Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin and Gwyneth Paltrow, normally well-heeled residents packed supermarkets, hardware and liquor stores early Saturday morning.
At the IGA supermarket, shelves were stripped bare of toilet paper, paper towels and other supplies. Motorists waited in long lines at gas stations while stores ran out of flashlights.
Some of the most patient shoppers stood in a long line at the Balsam Farm Stand, which was packed with anxious shoppers filling bags with heirloom tomatoes, organic zucchinis, $9 free-range eggs and hand-crafted mozzarella.
Michael Cinque, owner of the Amagansett Wine & Spirit, deliberated whether to board up the windows of his store as shoppers streamed in and then out with bottles of tequila, vodka and other expensive liquors.
You always have to be prepared. You have to take it seriously.- Michael Cinque, liquor store owner in Amagansett, N.Y.
“You always have to be prepared,” said Cinque, who has owned the store for 42 years and also volunteers as an emergency responder. “You have to take it seriously.”
In his back storeroom, he shifted pink wine boxes to get near a wooden board that listed all of the hurricanes and “big ones” that the liquor store had weathered, going back to the New England hurricane of September 1938.
In Newport, R.I., a coastal yachting community of 25,000 people, sump pumps, flashlights and generators were also in high demand.
Eversource, the largest electric utility company in Connecticut, warned residents to be prepared for power outages for up to five to 10 days.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont activated the National Guard in their states to help in possible rescue, debris clearing and public safety efforts.
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