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Hurricane Irene Crashes Into East Coast

SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Hurricane Irene has arrived. The storm has already struck parts of North Carolina. Some 200,000 people there are without power. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urged caution as Irene moves up the East Coast.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (HOMELAND SECURITY): Irene remains a large and dangerous storm. People need to take it seriously, people need to be prepared.

SIMON: Prepared, because forecasters say that Hurricane Irene could bring destructive winds, heavy flooding and a storm surge with coastal flooding. Irene has weakened to a category-1 hurricane but its path is wide. Irene is described as being larger than Hurricane Katrina with hurricane warnings in effect for much of the Atlantic Coast, from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Now coming up, we're going to more about hurricane preparations in New York and New Jersey, but as Irene has made landfall this morning on the North Carolina coast, we're going to begin with Greg Allen, who's in Manteo, North Carolina. Greg, thanks for being back with us. And what's it like?

GREG ALLEN: Well, Scott, we think the center of the storm has been passing us and it might be a little bit north of us now, just judging from the winds. We have had some pretty mighty winds here for the last hour or so. Now things tend to have calmed down a fair amount. We're still getting some big gusts but, you know, the sense I'm getting talking to people here in Manteo, where I'm at, and from hearing from what's going on just across the bridge over on Nags Head and the way in Kitty Hawk, is that things are not as bad as they could have been. You know, we say that oftentimes and we sometimes regret it later. But so far, most of what we're seeing is tree limbs being down, you know, which is (unintelligible) to power outages, but not the wide-scale flooding so far. That could still come, of course, but so far we're kind of staying cautiously hopeful.

SIMON: Did people seem to get out before the storm struck?

ALLEN: Yes, I think so. You know, I drove down throughout the Outer Banks yesterday. I saw houses, just every house I saw was nailed up tighter than a drum, with plywood and I didn't see any cars around. I'm hearing today that there are more people around on Nags Head than we thought. I think some people are actually coming in to check on their property. They maybe hunkered down inside, and they're coming out now. They're still being warned to watch out for possible flooding, but most people, as far as I can tell did leave (unintelligible) visitors left. I think what we have are some of the people who live here who wanted to stay around and watch their property. It's a lot of rain, as you might expect. We've been having a lot of rain since yesterday 'cause this storm is so big, pushing these huge bands of rain and wind in front of it that it's still hours away from hitting this area but we've been feeling the effects for some time. We're getting a fair amount of wind. It's probably sustained around 30 miles per hour but we get these gusts, like this one now, which come up to over 50. So, you know, you're starting to see this storm come this way. But as I say, it's still down. It's just hitting the tip of North Carolina now and it'll be a couple of hours until it gets here.

SIMON: And of Irene's downgraded category into a status 1, status into category-1. Is that seen as good news?

ALLEN: Oh, yeah. I mean, that what has made all the difference here, of course. You know, as we know, they were predicting originally this could have hit as a category-3, which would have a major impact all along the coast. Now a category-1 storm, you know, as it's heading northward and is expected to hit New England tomorrow at category-1 also. That will still be - still be a major event for a place that doesn't see category-1 hurricanes very rarely. But here in the North Carolina they are certainly prepared for something like this. What we've seen so is just mostly shingles and some siding off houses, not, you know, some piers have been damages farther south where the storm came ashore and the strong waves kind of knocked against the pier. So there's been some damage and there's been reports of a couple of deaths, I think one from a tree limb falling on someone. But we were really, you know, getting ready for something much, much worse than this. So, so far, so good, but we'll keep our fingers crossed here.

SIMON: Greg, finally, rank for us, please, if you would, the concerns that people there in North Carolina have now.

ALLEN: Well, that's right. There's a lot of things coming. I mean, the biggest one, number one, is storm surge. And they've been talking about a storm surge that could be several feet. And, you know, so far we've not seen a dramatic here in the Outer Banks but down in a little farther south where the storm came ashore here - New Bern - a good part of that city is flooded, we're hearing reports of. And power's out for more than half of the people in the town. So - and that's because that's inland, that the water backs up up the river that New Bern is on, and it caused this huge (unintelligible) that kind of been inundated much of the town. That kind of thing they've been talking about. So the problem's not just for the coast people right on the coast, being some inland communities, as the water backs up through the sound and some of the rivers. That's number one; of course though the wind's taking down trees. We've got, as you mentioned, a couple hundred thousand power outages here. That's going to continue as it goes up the coast.

SIMON: Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: And then we're also looking at a lot of rainfall here. So that's going to be - could lead to some flash flooding.

SIMON: NPR's Greg Allen in Manteo, North Carolina. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.