Thousands Flee Irene, Flights Canceled

Storm expected to wallop southeast tomorrow
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 26, 2011 1:21 AM CDT
Updated Aug 26, 2011 7:53 AM CDT
Thousands Flee Irene, Flights Canceled
Cars clog the roadway to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in Virginia yesterday as Hurricane Irene approaches.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Frightened North Carolinians fleeing Irene are jamming highways as the East Coast steels for what could be the biggest hurricane in decades. At least seven states have now declared a state of emergency, and hundreds of flights are being canceled. Gas stations are running out of fuel and ATMs have been emptied of cash as Americans hit the road for a bumper-to-bumper trip out of Irene's angry path. The Category 3 storm is expected to hit the Southeast sometime tomorrow, and hundreds of thousands of residents have been ordered out of their homes in three North Carolina counties. Norfolk, Va., is also ordering residents to evacuate, and Washington, DC, has been forced to postpone Sunday's planned MLK Memorial dedication.

"This is a very, very serious situation," a spokeswoman for Dare County told ABC News. "We have not seen anything like this in the lifetimes of most our residents. Once the storm hits, it will be very difficult to respond to distress calls." Irene is some 700 miles wide now and moving at a slow 12mph, which means it can wreak extensive damage in a region over a long period of time; it could cause up to $13.9 billion in damage on the East Coast. The storm is expected to barrel into New York City on Sunday, packing winds of up to 90mph. New Jersey communities are already being evacuated, and hundreds of street fairs have been canceled and elder care facilities and hospitals in low-lying area will be evacuated in New York today. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg says residents in low-lying parts of the city should get out today as the transit system is planned to be shut down tomorrow. (Read more hurricane stories.)

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