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NYC To Shut Down Public Transit

MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. Three hundred miles wide, with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles an hour, Hurricane Irene holds the Eastern seaboard in rapt attention today.

BLOCK: From Wilmington to Washington, Baltimore to Boston and beyond, officials are preparing for damage and major disruptions. President Obama spoke earlier today from Martha's Vineyard, where he's cutting his vacation short.

President BARACK OBAMA: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don't wait. Don't delay. We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst.

BLOCK: The president says the Federal Emergency Management Agency has millions of gallons of water and millions of meals ready for Irene's aftermath. We begin our coverage with NPR's Jim Zarroli in New York, which is taking some unprecedented steps ahead of the hurricane.

JIM ZARROLI: A few days ago, it was an earthquake. Now, New York City finds itself getting ready for another natural disaster of the type that virtually never happens here. With Hurricane Irene headed right for the city, Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered parts of the city to evacuate by Saturday afternoon, the first time in history that's ever happened. More than 250,000 people live in low-lying coastal areas of the city that are prone to flooding. They include the beaches of Brooklyn and Queens and parts of lower Manhattan near Wall Street.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took pains today to persuade residents to take the storm seriously.

Governor ANDREW CUOMO: I know there's a disconnect, that you hear all these somber warnings and you look outside and the sun is shining. The sun will not be shining in a couple of days.

ZARROLI: New York City was getting ready for the storm in other ways, too. Officials said they were revoking permits for outdoor events like street fairs and concerts. And if winds get bad enough, they said they may shut down a half dozen of the bridges that link the city's boroughs. At the same time, there will be another unprecedented step, a virtual shutdown of the city's transit system - that includes the subways and buses that residents rely so heavily upon. It also includes the commuter rail systems that serve suburban areas like Long Island, which is also in the storm's path.

The transit system serves five million passengers a day and is complex enough that closing it down will take eight hours, so the system will begin shutting down tomorrow at around noon. Mayor Bloomberg warned city residents not to wait until the last subway train to begin heading home. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.