Hurricane Irene heads for US East Coast as New York prepares for emergency

The biggest storm to hit the US east coast in more than fifty years is heading up towards New Jersey and New York, having wreaked havoc in the Bahamas on Thursday, bringing winds of up to 185 km per hour and torrential rain in its wake.

Some 65 million people along the east coast, including North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, will feel its force and the governors of these states have already declared states of emergency to free up resources for disaster relief. New York may even shut down its transportation system as a safety measure as Irene is due to strike on Sunday. Families in the states affected have been told to make emergency plans and watch for evacuation alerts.

Hurricane Irene is the second natural disaster to affect the eastern U.S. this week as the biggest earthquake in more than a century struck the state of New York, shocking many residents although damage was minimal.

Residents in parts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina have been ordered to evacuate and cruise ships across the Caribbean and in waters that may be affected are having to change course.

Up to 25 cruise ships in the Eastern Caribbean and Bahamas have had to change schedules – ships belonging to Carnival CruiseLines, Celebrity Cruises, Holland American Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean were among those affected.

The former director of the Miami Hurricane Centre, Max Mayfield, told APP news agency: "One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole north east coast. This is going to have an impact on the US economy.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged residents of low-lying and beach-front areas to move to higher ground and find temporary alternative accommodation before Irene arrives on Sunday and NYC may even shut down its entire transportation system for safety reasons.

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