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Hurricane Irene Coverage: Hurricane Irene Makes Landfall; Many New Yorkers Not Evacuating; Rhode Island Bracing for Storm; New York City Halts Mass Transit; Mayor Bloomberg Discusses New York Storm Preparations; 370,000 Under Mandatory Evacuation; New Jersey Braces For Hurricane Irene; Beach Erosion Expected To Be Major Threat; New York City Hospitals Evacuating Patients; Interview With Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray

Aired August 27, 2011 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

Hurricane Irene is pounding the East Coast right now with drenching rains and winds reaching 85 miles an hour. Just take a look at the expanse of it right there, it is so big, it actually could cover Europe.

This is the view from space as Irene barreled ashore earlier today on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. So far we know of four storm-related deaths. And more than half a million people are without power in North Carolina and Virginia right now. And hundreds of thousands are evacuating as Irene heads up the Eastern Seaboard. It is down to a Category 1 hurricane now, but make no mistake, it is still very powerful and dangerous.

Nine states from North Carolina to Massachusetts are under a state of emergency. The latest to be added now, Maryland. A couple of hours ago, President Barack Obama stopped by the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. He says the government is ready to handle whatever comes. But it is going to be touch and go for many people throughout the weekend and into next week.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It is going to be a long 72 hours and obviously a lot of families are going to be affected. What we've heard the biggest concern having right now has to do with flooding and - and power. It sounds like there's going to be an enormous strain on a lot of states and that may take days, even longer in some cases. (INAUDIBLE), so we're going to have to stay on top of the recovery - the response and recovery.


WHITFIELD: CNN has news crews up and down the East Coast to bring you the very latest on Hurricane Irene. Reynolds Wolf, John Zarrella and Brian Todd are all in the bull's eye right now along the North Carolina Coast. Athena Jones is in Washington, D.C. And in the New York area, Poppy Harlow is in Lower Manhattan, Elizabeth Cohen is at an evacuation center there in the city. And Rob Marciano is on Long Island. We're going to check in with all of them.

North Carolina's Outer Banks are getting battered by Irene's fury. Gusty winds and rain are pounding Kill Devil Hills.

And that's where we find our David Mattingly getting whipped up by the storm right now -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. Every hurricane that comes through is unique. It has its own special qualities and always remembered by certain things. And to us, this storm is going to be remembered by its size and its duration.

Right now, we have now been rained on for about 22 straight hours. About 20 straight hours of tropical storm force winds. And right now, I'm feeling some of the strongest winds of this storm yet. So this hurricane is not done with the Outer Banks and North Carolina by any stretch of the imagination.

We have been watching the surf all day long. There hasn't been that much of a problem with storm surge from the Atlantic Ocean. But what he we are bracing for and what we've already seen to the south of here is when this storm moves out, and all these strong winds that you see around me right now, it's going to shift and it's going to pull and push water that's in the south on the west side of these islands on to dry land. And that water is going to cause some flooding. And right now everyone's just wondering just how bad that flooding is going to be.

But for right now, obviously some of the worst conditions we have seen in this part of the Outer Banks since this massive, massive hurricane rolled in. So it is letting us know that there's still more damage to be done. We have seen some minor damage in this area to structures. Now electricity has been going out to thousands of people right now and it's probably going to be getting worse as these winds intensify.

So for what's going to happen in the near future, we're going to go to the Weather Center right now. Chad Myers is following this storm.

Chad, you don't have to stand out here to let everyone know this is not a storm to be trifled with.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And, David, you are about to get the worst of it. I know it seems like this is still ramping up for you.

But in about 20 minutes, the eye wall will make its closest approach to you and those wind speeds will be about 80 to 85 miles per hour. You are right there. I know you probably can't see a TV monitor. But David is right there at the Kill Devil Hills area. Got to go across the bridge to Kill Devil Hills, one bridge up here, another to the south, and the eye wall coming right over the top of that eye wall, that location.

And you may need to get inside. You may need to take some cover because we don't want you to get hurt out there for TV. Just to make sure all the crews are safe as well.

MATTINGLY: I hear you. I hear you, Chad.

MYERS: This is the biggest part of the storm. The biggest part of the storm is less than 30 minutes from you.

And, Fred, another part of the storm here, too, we know now that water is pouring into the Chesapeake Bay. We know that Virginia Beach area, the Hampton Roads area is going to begin to flood, begin to flood rather rapidly here as the water gets pushed in here, push up the rivers, a couple of feet already above - above where we should be, the tide is still going up as well.

Little farther up the coast, this will be the Delmarva, here's Ocean City, Maryland, wind pounding on shore here and the waves are pounding on shore. We're losing a lot of beach at this point in time.

And if you feel threatened, it's not too late still to get out, especially up here from Atlantic City northward, you can still get away from the coast. You don't want to be anywhere from Lakewood down to Atlantic City, Wild Wood. I know how big Wildwood's beach is, but let me tell you, half of that is going to go away - Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Incredible. That beach erosion is going to be pretty significant, isn't it?

MYERS: It is. It is. Especially up here, again, into the New York City region too, Long Beach, one of our crews right there along Long Beach, all the waves in the water now pouring into here. The sand is actually getting pushed from the east into this - into the harbor area here and all that water is too. That water will eventually run up the river.

Another part of this storm is that was way over here, but the water will rush in here, a couple of feet up surge into Long Island Sound. That surge from this way and that surge from this way will combine right into the East River. And that's why I believe most of the flooding for New York City will occur. That's South Street Seaport. That's the Williamsburg area. That's all the way up to LaGuardia, we're expecting those runways to be completely under water.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. All right. Chad Myers, thanks so much.

And we saw some of the images earlier showing some of the damage already in North Carolina and in Virginia. We saw some buildings that were damaged. We saw a lot of downed trees.

Well, apparently, one of the biggest ways in which Irene is impacting the coastal area is in the form of power outages. The latest numbers we have are that roughly 550,000 customers are without power in North Carolina and Virginia as a result of Irene. But the vast majority of those affected are in North Carolina right now.

And then, take a look at this right here this video showing the power of that storm. You can see part of the mast of a sailboat kind of swaying there in Morehead City, North Carolina. Well, you don't see it anymore. Because apparently those waves and wind simply took out that sailboat.

We're also continuing to watch the preparations under way in other parts of the Eastern Seaboard, namely in New York. Evacuations have taken place in what's considered Zone A, the low lying areas of the five boroughs. We're going to take it in New York right after this.


WHITFIELD: It is a first for New York City at noon earlier today. New York City began shutting down its public transportation system as it braces for a direct hit from Hurricane Irene. Subways, commuter trains, buses, all of it suspended. The main airports, they're also now closed to incoming flights.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he simply doesn't want people taking any chances.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: You can't prepare for the best case. You have to prepare for the worst case and that's why yesterday we issued a mandatory evacuation order for the more than 370,000 New Yorkers residing in the low lying areas called Zone A areas and in the rest of the Rockaways, which is classified as Zone B.

The difference with Zone B and Zone A, Zone B is higher, but the Rockaways are a special case because if the bridges get closed, there is no ways off the island. And it will be very difficult for us to provide emergency services.


WHITFIELD: All right. New York bracing for a direct hit. But before New York, there is Washington, D.C. area, Mid-Atlantic States that are also bracing for some sort of brush from Hurricane Irene.

Let's dip right now into our Washington, D.C. area affiliate coverage from WUSA and listen to what they're telling their Maryland, D.C. and Virginia viewers.

TOM DENISON, SMECO (via telephone): -- it depends on the area that they're working. But it's - you know, anytime when you're, you know, when you're in a bucket truck and it's, you know, 40 to 50 miles an hour wave, well, that's a pretty dangerous situation.

DEREK MGINTY, WUSA9 ANCHOR: Well, I wouldn't want that.

DENISON: The crews are definitely aware of that.

LESLI FOSTER, WUSA9 HOST: Are your customers having an easy time getting through to you? Have you had any backlogs? Have you had any issues? And if you have, how - what are the ways you're telling them to try to reach you? DENISON: What we're doing right now is we've staffed up our call center starting at, you know, around noon today, up to 2:00 today, where we brought in a lot more folks to answer calls directly. We're, you know, we're taking outage - outage reports on our automated system. So we're so far handling everything as planned at this point. And we'll bring in more people -

FOSTER: All right. Tom Denison from SMECO. We know you have a long night ahead and your crews do. So we hope they're out there being safe and we know that the people in Southern Maryland appreciate all their efforts to get their power -

MGINTY: Oh, yes.

FOSTER: -- restored for sure. We'll talk to you in just a bit. Thanks, Tom.

MGINTY: All right. Bye-bye, Tom.

Let's get over to Jessica Doyle. She's at RFK Stadium where I know they had set up to bring out sandbags earlier today. A very precious commodity in a lot of parts of our area, Jessica.

JESSICA DOYLE, WUSA9.COM: Indeed, Derek and Lesli. Good afternoon to you both. That's right. It has been primetime here at Lot 7 at RFK Stadium if you're looking for a sandbag.

And we have some fresh information that we want to bring you right now. William Howland is the Director of D.C. Department of Public Works and you have some fresh information for us. What is that?

WILLIAM HOWLAND, DIRECTOR, D.C. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS: Yes. About 15 minutes ago, we shut down the line for the sandbags. What we're trying to do is anyone that's been waiting, we want to make sure that they get through the line and get their five sandbags. So we think that the line, that will pretty much exhaust our supply.

DOYLE: How long do you think it will take for this line of existing folks to actually be able to come in, pick up their sandbags and head home so they can actually sandbag in the property they're concerned about?

HOWLAND: Maybe about an hour, maybe a little more than that, so -

DOYLE: So this is obviously a concern today, sandbagging for flooding. But what about concerns - other concerns that you have looking ahead?

HOWLAND: What I'm really concerned about is, you know, the consistent rain and the high winds that are going to be coming through. A lot of trees are going to be knocked over and that's what I'm really more concerned about, is downed power lines, downed trees.

DOYLE: And you're working with other agencies? You're also working with PEPCO on that?

HOWLAND: Right. PEPCO, DDOT and DPW, three of us will be working together as a team to get everything cleared up for tomorrow.

DOYLE: So the concern is also residents, but also keeping the streets open, I would imagine, as well.

HOWLAND: Right. They're keeping the streets cleared for traffic - for traffic, pedestrian safety and then just downed power lines for everyone's safety.

DOYLE: For folks who have sandbags today, you know, you might need them in the future because of the storm surge coming down the rivers, the inlets. What should we do with our sandbags?

HOWLAND: Yes. You need to keep them. You know, the rising waters, you know, may come a couple of days later and - and , you know, it's still hurricane season, you know? There's a possibility that we could get another hurricane later in the year.

DOYLE: But we want to thank you so much for joining us and giving us some fresh information. We know it is very rainy, so you go get dry.

HOWLAND: Thank you. Take care.

DOYLE: Thank you (ph).

WHITFIELD: You're listening to our affiliate coverage out of the Washington, D.C. area, WUSA.

You heard them say it right there. They are now out of sandbags that they've been distributing all day long. This after yesterday a full day of distribution of five sandbags per vehicle or per family. Then they ran out and then they opened up RFK again today to distribute more sandbag and now they're completely out ahead of Hurricane Irene.

But you can see right there already the bands of rain that are hitting the Washington, D.C. area. We're going to continue to watch all that is taking place as Irene makes its way from the North Carolina, Virginia Coast and head up the Mid-Atlantic and then on to New York landmarks.

They are closing ahead of the storm, including the Statue of Liberty. Park officials say the site will be closed to visitors through Monday. Lady Liberty was weathered - has weathered rather several storms since she was dedicated back in 1886. This storm, however, just might be unprecedented say a lot of experts.

And in advance of Irene, New York City started evacuating a lot of hospitals, particularly in the low lying areas. Among them, this hospital on Coney Island, the project came with risks, especially moving those in Intensive Care, the very young and the very old, some nursing homes and senior centers were also ordered cleared out last night. And we'll have much more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene after this.


WHITFIELD: Hurricane Irene just hours away from barreling down on New York. Still, many New Yorkers are staying put, determined to ride out the storm.

Joining us now by phone, Morag Frager. She is a New Yorker who lives on the Upper West Side and is not evacuating. All right. So Ms. Frager, why not?

MORAG FRAGER, NYC RESIDENT (via telephone): Oh, I just think that we're going to be quite safe where I am on the Upper West Side in the city here. And I have everything I need here, and friends around me. I feel perfectly safe.

WHITFIELD: You live on the seventh floor. Give me an idea of how you prepared for this. What do you have in your apartment to make sure you can live without power or water if it comes to that?

FRAGER: Yes. I have hard boiled eggs in case I don't have to cook. I cooked pasta last night. And I thought I'll cook the whole box just in case I can make that into a salad. I have flashlights. I bought extra batteries. I have the good books to read and lots of music to listen to. I feel, you know, well taken care of here in my little corner.

WHITFIELD: So you feel pretty comfortable? OK. So you're not concerned -


WHITFIELD: -- or worried at all, even when you hear the mayor who says, you know, people don't mess around, particularly if you're in the low lying areas, you're not, because you're in the Upper West Side. But how do most of your friends and family there in the New York City area, how are they approaching this storm?

FRAGER: Most of my friends are still here. Those - at least who are not away on vacation, I must say, they're still here. They're doing the same thing. They're sort of hunkering in. They've all got movies or books, good food in their refrigerator.

And this morning when I talked to T.J., I told him that the only thing I was worried about was across from my window here, there was a townhouse with a deck filled with pots and furniture and beautiful flowers, grills and they had not taken them in. And it seemed they were - they're gone, but right now they're taking everything in. So now that's off my list of anything to worry about.

WHITFIELD: OK. That's good. Because those things could potentially be projectiles if they're indeed in -

FRAGER: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: -- the high wind - yes, you're experiencing.

All right. Morag Frager, thanks so much. We're going to check back with you and make sure -

FRAGER: You might -

WHITFIELD: -- that you're doing all right. What are you about to say?

FRAGER: Actually, when I was out this morning, I was in a cafe and I heard something interesting behind me. Somebody was talking to his girlfriend on the phone and trying to be very patient. And he said to her, look, just you got to get a grip on this, get a hold of yourself, all it's going to be is a lot of rain, a lot of wind, this is not an attack. I thought that actually summed up, you know, the attitude of a lot of New Yorkers. We've, you know, survived 9/11 and gone through a lot and it's just wind and rain.

WHITFIELD: All right. You and a lot of New Yorkers remaining calm, perhaps the best defense for what Hurricane Irene may bring. Thanks so much for your time. And we'll check in with you again and see how you're doing.

FRAGER: OK. Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: We're going to have much more on how other people, residents along the Eastern Seaboard are bracing for Hurricane Irene. We'll be checking in with our Gary Tuchman, he's one of our many correspondents who is dotted along the Eastern Seaboard. Much more after this.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene.

The North Carolina Coast takes a beating as Hurricane Irene slams ashore and now as many as 65 million people along the entire East Coast of the U.S. are scrambling to get out of the way, seeking shelter wherever they can.

The now Category 1 hurricane made landfall this morning in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Take a look at how big this is. It's the size of Europe, and so far we know of four storm related deaths. More than half a million people in North Carolina and Virginia are without power.

Irene is expected to arrive in New York City sometime tomorrow morning. The big concern there, flooding from Irene's storm surge.

And President Barack Obama at FEMA Headquarters a short time ago said the government is ready to deal with whatever happens. He's already declared states of emergency in nine states.

And among them, the State of Rhode Island and that's where we find our Gary Tuchman. He's in Newport, Rhode Island, where, of course, it's calm now, but folks are bracing for in a matter of hours it may be very different there.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Fredricka. The moment of truth is fast arriving for this beautiful city of Newport, Rhode Island. People are boarding up, putting tape on their windows.

Newport population, 25,000 year round. But on summer weekends like this one, more than 100,000 people are here. This is a big weekend in Newport. Weddings galore, there's a wedding at our hotel. I felt sorry for the poor bride, I was talking to her. Your wedding day is coming before a hurricane comes to us. Hey, at least I'll remember the day I got married.

But you get an example of some of the businesses here. This is a sunglass store called Sal Optics (ph). They're still open. But they were - where is that sunglass woman? What happened to her? I think she -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She went to get a gelato.

TUCHMAN: -- she went to get gelato. And that's the point I'm trying to make. The sunglass store, the gelato store still open, but they're getting ready to close down everything.

One of the problems here in Newport, Rhode Island, is that you have - it's an island. It's called Aquidneck Island that it sits on. So it's very vulnerable. And the beaches face to the south, so there's a lot of concern since this hurricane is coming from the south. They still expect to have hurricane force winds when the hurricane arrives here sometime between the center of the hurricane to the west of here, sometimes between 9:00 A.M. tomorrow, 6:00 P.M. in the afternoon, so people know the history of Newport.

Back in 1938, we heard this all day on our coverage on CNN, that the hurricane in 1938 hit Newport very hard. More than 600 people died in Long Island, in Southern New England, 1,700 hurt. Hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. I mean, you talk to people who are over the age of 77 or 78 years old, they still talk about it like - like it was yesterday.

And then you also had 20 years ago last week you had Hurricane Bob, which came into Southern New England killing people. So people know they're vulnerable here. They're taking it seriously.

But what's so unusual, Fredricka, about this particular hurricane, you know, we can't blame people if he they don't want to leave because where are you going to go? It's hitting everywhere in Southern New England. It's hitting Northern New England. It's hitting the middle axis (ph). There's really nowhere to drive to evacuate unless you want to go very far away. So most people seem to be sticking it out, but they are taking it seriously by boarding up their businesses and boarding up their homes.

Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, that is good to see. All right. Thanks so much, Gary Tuchman. We'll check back with you over the course of the next few hours from Newport, Rhode Island.

So on top of the great work that we've been getting from our own CNN reporters, we're also getting great reporting from you, our viewers. Let's start with an iReport from Oak Island, North Carolina. Some pretty, beautiful pictures there, Julia Bishop sent in this picture of the surf there or pictures.

And we also have some video here of flooding in Atlantic Beach, also in North Carolina, not so beautiful. That's the reality. Kimberly Segal went out and shot the footage and then sent it to us.

And, of course, it's not just the Carolinas getting hit at this point. That's from Andrea Alexander along the Coast in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

And further north, let's go to New York right now, where they continue to brace for Hurricane Irene, Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the microphone there.


BLOOMBERG: -- evacuation of residents of night trip facilities. And then we'll talk about some other issues.

But I did want to first say all of the forecasts are basically the same. The storm is headed in this direction, slightly east, slightly west, slightly stronger, slightly weaker, but this is a storm where if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be fatal. There will be very high winds no matter whether they categorize it is a tropical storm or Category 1, 2, 3, 37 hurricane, whatever it is. There's a lot of blowing debris, tree limbs come down and water gets into places that can cause electrical shorts. It is dangerous out there.

And the thing that makes the most sense for everybody is to first comply with the mandatory evacuation. It's done because you may be in danger, but as importantly, if God forbid you needed some emergency services, our first responders would have to put their lives in jeopardy to get to you and to provide the service and we're worried that in some cases we just may not be able to get there. And you never know when you are going to need a doctor or something like that.

So the storm continues on track. We don't have any other updates. Winds will pick up as you go through the afternoon. The reason that you have rain and then no rain, rain and then no rain is the way a hurricane works. There are these bands of rain that surround it and when you're between them you think there's no storm and when you're under one of them you get a lot of rain.

But we're nowhere near yet the really heavy winds. Those will come in something about 9:00 tonight and the place or the time when you're likely to have flood damage of just literally water all of a sudden pouring over the side of the bulkhead is something like 8 tomorrow morning. The winds are scheduled to subside late tomorrow afternoon and then we're going to have a whole separate set of issues of how we clean up and mass transit tries to get back, which probably is not going to happen until well into the day on Monday so Monday morning is going to be a mess in terms of a commute.

But our concern is saving lives, our concern is making sure that the only thing that comes out of this is inconvenience and maybe a little bit of property damage. We don't need people to die. Unfortunately, I was told about somebody who fell off a ladder earlier when they were trying to board up their house. They haven't died yet but seriously injured and may, in fact, be fatal.

Now, things happen all the time but we can take some steps and to try to minimize the damage and prevent as many as we can. We also are going to talk a little bit about power and the possibility of electricity being shut off in some areas. Kevin Burke from Con-Ed is going to help us with that but remember we're asking buildings to shut off their elevators, certainly doing that in NYCHA.

We just don't need people stuck in elevators and if the power goes out while you're in the elevator we're going to have to find out about it which sometimes is hard to do and then get the Fire Department there and we just -- the Fire Department should be standing by for real emergencies. And, so, if you haven't evacuated yet, you still have time to do it. There is no mass transit available but we have buses at NYCHA facilities.

You can hail a cop car, some of the taxis are working, maybe some friendly motorists will give you a ride or you can just walk. But, just because you say I'm living on the 10th floor and I'm not going to -- water's not going to get here, that's true, but that doesn't mean we could get to you or you could get out if you had to. It doesn't mean there isn't going to be flying glass from -- the higher you go up the stronger the winds are.

So, we should heed the warnings and follow what the law says. Please evacuate the A areas, the low-lying areas, and all of the Rockaway. As a programming note, when we finish talking about what's happening here, we will have a press conference in Spanish and take some questions for our Spanish-speaking audience. Margarita Lopez, a NYCHA Board member who used to represent the Lower East Side on the City Council and has been out in the field encouraging the residents to evacuate, will conduct that.

Now, let's first talk about NYCHA. If you're a resident of a NYCHA facility in the Rockaway, Coney Island, the Lower East Side or any other of the low-lying zone A areas, you must evacuate now. It is a mandatory evacuation. Your buildings are shutting down. Your elevators are shutting down. Your boilers are shutting down and it will be much too dangerous to stay.

Now, for the last five hours we have been running bus service from NYCHA developments to nearby evacuation centers and we hope NYCHA residents and other New Yorkers who need to evacuate have places to stay with family or friends who live in safer areas but, in case you do not have family or friends close by, we have evacuation centers fully staffed and ready to go. There are about 78 hurricane shelters and 8 special medical centers across the city. There is plenty of room. No one is going to be turned away.

If NYCHA residents don't want to use one of our free buses to evacuate, which we have outside the NYCHA facilities that need to be evacuated, you could use a private car or a cab. Our GPS data does show us that the number of taxis on the streets right now is just below the average for a Saturday afternoon and we have moved to zone fare systems, the day zone fare system, to encourage ride sharing and increase the capacity of each cab.

We've also directed cabs to go to the evacuation areas. Liveries and commuter vans have also been authorized to pick up street hails anywhere in the city but the essential point is even if you have to walk, evacuate now. And, as I said, this is for all of the zone A areas, the low-lying areas but also the Rockaway, even for the areas that are higher up because there if you were to, God forbid, need -- have a medical emergency for example, it's not clear that we could get to you.

As the winds build up the bridges may very well close down. It may not be possible to get off Staten Island or to get off the Rockaway and, so, it's a good time right now to say OK, better to be safe than sorry. We've been saying this all day. The time is running out. It's going to get dark in a little while and the rains will start getting heavier and then the winds will make it very difficult and dangerous to be outside.

The airports are basically all closed. The Staten Island Ferry is still running. It's running on a one hour schedule, simply because there is no demand. Nobody's going. There's -- nobody's showing up at the ferry. We'll continue to do that until later in the day but as soon as the winds start to build and it gets to be something like 40 knots, at that point we think it's not safe to run them and so we will shut those down.

The storm is coming and the few things that are still working, the few stores that are still open you would expect to all close in the very near future. Since this morning we have seen a marked increase in the number of people evacuating. Most are getting the message but for some reason some people have yet to leave. So, let me just one more time, I hate to sound like a broken record but it is exactly what we are trying to do.

If you haven't left, you should leave now, not later this evening, not later this afternoon, but immediately. Let me repeat that briefly in Spanish (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

The latest forecast has the epicenter of the hurricane hitting east of the five boroughs. Tropical storm winds of 40 miles an hour and higher will start about 9:00 tonight, continue to increase to hurricane strength through the morning. Most of the storm is going to take place during the night when you're asleep or when you get up early Sunday morning and the most important thing to do is to stay inside. No beaches, it's just way too dangerous. No parks. Branches come down. We just don't need people getting killed and there's so much flying debris no matter how careful we are be sure that you stay inside in the morning. Look out the window. It may be fun to say I walked around in a hurricane but it wouldn't be fun if you have to say it from your hospital bed.

If you live in a high-rise, especially on the 10th floor or above, stay away from the windows in case they break and shatter. If you have a yard or a porch or a balcony or any other space, make sure everything including outdoor furniture is tied down or secured properly and you should know as a preventive measure, because people have asked me as they've driven down the streets and they see what the Sanitation Department has done, the Sanitation Department has spent the day emptying all the litter baskets, turning them upside down so that nothing goes into them and placing them next to buildings to reduce the risk of them blowing around.

We have reports of some people thinking they're helping by putting the baskets back on the corner. Please do not. If you see a litter basket next to a building, leave it there. Our Sanitation Department knows what they're doing. And, if you're in an -- if you encounter an emergency, call 911. If it's not an emergency please call 311 instead so you can keep 911 open for the most urgent calls and I'm told is working fine now so you can use that as well.

National Grid is fully prepared. There is a chance that Con-Ed will be forced to shut down parts of its grid if there is severe flooding so, besides having a go bag you should also be prepared for the possibility of losing power in your home and that means considering filling your sinks and bathtubs with potable water, particularly if you live in an upper floor of an apartment building a lot of the water it gets pumped up and if the electricity is not there the pumps don't work.

So, have some -- fill a bathtub or fill some sinks with water. Make sure you know where your flashlights are. It's a good time to take them out, put them on a kitchen counter or someplace where it's easy to get. Make sure that they work. If not, then stores may not be open for you to buy new batteries but look around and you probably have some and do that. Charge your cell phones right now and you can always text 311 at 311692 which is 311NYC.

For updates about the storm you could also go to, as I said, or follow @NYCMayorsOffice or @notifyNYC on Twitter.

WHITFIELD: All right, New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg underscoring the importance of the potential dangers of Hurricane Irene as it barrels its way north along the East Coast making its way to New York and he says if you live in zone A and you haven't left already there are means in which to do so. There are buses available but he says, "Even if you have to walk, evacuate now." We'll have much more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene after this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Up and running that will be taking phone calls and we've been putting this number out there. I can repeat it for anyone who is living in Alexandria, 746-4800.


WHITFIELD: All right, our affiliate coverage there out of Washington, D.C., telling the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia viewers there from our affiliate WUSA how those bands from Hurricane Irene are already starting to pound that area but nothing like what we've seen in North Carolina as well as Virginia. And then you head north from there and the potential dangers are great in New York City as well as New Jersey. We heard that from the Mayor of New York just a short time ago and then earlier from the Governor of New Jersey.

In fact, let's check in with one of our reporters there in that region right now. Our Jason Carroll is there in -- along the New Jersey coast where you're feeling the wind, not necessarily the rain in a very big way, but describe for us what you're experiencing and if people have heeded those evacuation warnings in that area.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and just to set the scene from where we are now, we've really seen conditions here in Atlantic City deteriorate. We've been here since early this morning since about 10:00, we've been watching the surf. The surf has definitely gotten a lot more intense. We've seen the wind pick up. We've seen many more of those bands of rain scoot through here Fredricka.

As you know, Atlantic City is under a mandatory evacuation. All of the major casinos, all eleven of the casinos in the city have been shut down. You can see they've been boarding up -- actually this morning we saw some of them boarding up, doing some last minute adjustments. They put sandbags in front. The reason why they're putting it here is because the Boardwalk is definitely in jeopardy at this point. Those who know the area, those who know storms that have come through here say they expect the ocean to come up to this area of the Boardwalk that you see over in there. They are expecting that to happen when Hurricane Irene arrives here.

Now, once again, Atlantic City is under a mandatory evacuation and just about an hour ago, New Jersey's Governor said for all those who haven't left, now is the time to go.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: With hours to go now before really starting to get into the gale force winds on our coast, if there are people who still are in areas that we've asked that they either voluntarily or in a mandatory way evacuate and you have not done that yet, please do so. Go to family, go to friends, go to co- workers', neighbors, to go to someplace that's safe because it's going to come a point in time later on this evening when we're not going to be able move you and then you're going to have to ride out the storm wherever you are. Which, if it's in one of the places that we've identified as particularly dangerous, it's not going to be a pleasant experience for anybody.


CARROLL: Final warning there from New Jersey's Governor Christie.

And, as you're looking there, Fredricka, you can see that the Irene's Gift Shop, strange sort of sign there but, perhaps, it is a sign of things to come. Some -- a bit of some good news. The Governor's office does say that some 1 million people actually heeded the evacuation orders and -- and left the area.

So that certainly is some good news for emergency officials who have been out here dealing with these bands of rain like the one that is coming down right now and dealing with trying to move those last minute holdouts out of this area.

This is not the only area, though, that is under a mandatory evacuation. Just to the north in New York City my colleague Elizabeth Cohen is in lower Manhattan in Battery Park so let's check in with her -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jason, here in Battery Park I must say, I don't know if this is true in Atlantic City, but I'm sort of amazed at the number of people who are still here and really aren't heeding the Mayor's warning to get out. They say they don't think this is going to be such a big deal and they will just, you know, hunker down and sort of put up with it.

But, the people who did get out is patients in five New York City hospitals. The Mayor said early Friday you've got to get all of your patients out and when you include nursing homes it's about 22 facilities. And, so, what they did is they evacuated these people. It was actually done. I watched it happen. It was really quite efficient and they brought them to hospitals that were further up in northern Manhattan.

Now, I spoke to one woman whose brother is being treated for a brain tumor. He is gravely ill and she is really very concerned because he was supposed to start a special treatment yesterday and he's not going to be able to because he had to evacuate.

Let's take a listen to what she had to say about the incredible anxiety around his transfer.


EILEEN FINDLER, SISTER OF HOSPITAL EVACUEE: It just feels like what else can you throw into this, you know, it's bad enough having to live with this diagnosis and try to get the medical help and then, you know, it's just every -- everything that you try to do you just keep getting slapped back down. So, but, you know, we'll get him to a hotel tonight and, you know, have the maid and we'll just weather the storm there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COHEN: Now, the hospital that he had to evacuate from is New York University and really it is right on the water and they are actually keeping a handful, probably fewer than 10, patients there who are so critically ill that it would actually be more dangerous to try to get them out of there so they're really just hoping that that water doesn't get too high because if it gets into their basement that's where their generators are.

Now, Fred, as I mentioned, I'm sort of amazed at the number of people who are staying in lower Manhattan. One of them is a gentleman who was the Commodore of the Manhattan Sailing School and he and his crew were battening down the hatches earlier today. They were getting everything secure and they said that they are staying, they're going to go out for a nice dinner, that's probably what they're doing right now and then they're going to come back and spend the night on a ship and I got to talk to that Commodore. Let's take a listen.


COHEN: Are you nervous about this at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're not really nervous because we've been watching the storm and its projection and watch the --it's -- it's declining in wind speed and so, we think we understand exactly what's coming and what we'll be able to do. We're not nervous right now. It could have been a lot worse.


COHEN: Now, I asked the Commodore what are you going to do sitting on that boat as the tides are going up and you're rocking around and he said, "I think we'll be playing poker."

WHITFIELD: Really? OK, a very bold move. We'll have to double check with him a little bit later as this storm really does kind of barrel in on that area. All right. Thank you so much --

COHEN: We will.

WHITFIELD: -- Elizabeth Cohen.

All right, let's move south now to Maryland. A state of emergency has been declared there as well and now they're already starting to experience over the first indications of Irene's approach.

Our Chris Lawrence is there and he's joining us now from Chesapeake Beach and we see right there in the water. What's going on?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, really over the last (INAUDIBLE) we have definitely seen the water levels here rise tremendously fast from where it was even at say 11:00 or 12 noon, the water is really starting to come up quickly. The wind's obviously gotten a lot stronger, (INAUDIBLE) as well as more rain coming into the area. If you can just take a look and we'll kind of show you a (INAUDIBLE) the Chesapeake Bay. I spoke to the Mayor of Chesapeake Beach minutes ago and he said one of the things that he's concerned with is previous storms is that storm surge and one of the problems is high tide is going to be right around 4:00 in the morning and that's right when the brunt of the storm will be hitting the (INAUDIBLE) area so he is very concerned as -- as the tremendous energy from the storm arrives in this area at the same time as high tide and that's going to push that storm surge right up into a lot of homes that are literally not more than a few yards off the beach.

Obviously, this is also a resort town. A lot of people here -- here for weddings or here for the weekend. I talked to one young lady who is determined to push through and have her wedding despite the hurricane on its way.


LAWRENCE: What's your thoughts right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I was a little worried for everyone's safety coming in. I had second thoughts about maybe going through with it just so we can keep everyone safe but, you know what, we're going to do it. Nothing can stop us now. So, it's -- it's going to happen.

LAWRENCE: What -- what was your original plan for the wedding?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were going to do it right there on the water under the beautiful gazebo that they had set up but now they're going to set up a great reception room upstairs for us to do the ceremony in so it's going to be great.

LAWRENCE: And you'll have the beautiful pictures, palm trees toppling over in the background.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to be something memorable for sure. We're going to have great pictures from one of our friends, he's doing the pictures for us and I think he'll really capture the moment. Definitely.


LAWRENCE: Yes, she's going to have a great story to tell on her 10-year wedding anniversary and, of course, certainly as the hurricane gets closer and closer to this area and, again, keeping an eye on that high tide at 4:00 in the morning, we've just got to hope that when all this is said and done there won't be any more serious stories that I have to tell you about (INAUDIBLE) devastation. Hopefully, this will pass and people's homes and their safety will still be intact. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Lawrence, thanks so much from what is usually a typically serene kind of Chesapeake Beach there in Maryland. Not today as Irene barrels in. All right, straight ahead, the nation's capitol also bracing for all that Hurricane Irene may be bringing. Mayor Vincent Gray after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, the outer bands of Hurricane Irene already starting to be felt in the nation's capitol. Let's find out just how prepared Washington, D.C., is. The Mayor of Washington, D.C., Vincent Gray, with us now.

So, give me an idea. How prepared are residents, particularly since I understand all of the sandbags that have been distributed for free today and yesterday now all out, right?

MAYOR VINCENT C. GRAY (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: Well, we're just about out. We added more sand. We added more bags. In fact, I just came from RFK Stadium where sand is being given out. We had lots of people in line there and, frankly, without -- virtually without exception people are in good spirits. I think we're prepared for it.

We're telling people to, you know, go home and stay home. We're expecting anywhere from two to four inches of rain. We're expecting high winds and we certainly could have some power outages but all of our staff is mobilized at our emergency operation center and we -- we are ready for this. We're asking people to call 311 if they have any questions and we'll try to get them answered quickly.

WHITFIELD: You said there could be some power outages. Already, something like 260,000 people without power in Maryland and parts of Virginia already. Are there particular pockets of Washington, D.C., the city that you, I guess, are bracing for the most to likely lose power?

GRAY: Well, certainly, we could --we've had in the past when we've had snow problems or other problems, the northwest area, the ward 4, ward 3 areas of northwest and certainly parts of southeast.

One of the good things is we've been working very closely with Pepco, our power company. They've doubled the number of people in their call center. They've doubled the number of people who can get out and get the work done should there be power outages.

So, we think that's an improvement but I think people need to remember, too, that as long as we have gale force winds they can't get out and do anything so it will have to come quickly in the aftermath of the wind subsiding.

WHITFIELD: And we're looking at the images right now, the weather there deteriorating. It's very dark for 4:00 in the afternoon. Shots of the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, very gray there. Now, I realize you have left a number of the homeless shelters open, you're very concerned about the homeless people so that they can be inside in the middle of the day.

GRAY: That's right.

WHITFIELD: What communities are you most concerned about? The vulnerable, the elderly, the children, how do you reach out and be available to them if they need it? GRAY: Well, we -- we know where a lot of our seniors are at this stage. Of course, those in public housing, we've already checked in on them. We will continue to check in on them. We're making sure that everybody has the information to call 311. We also have set up shelters for, should they need it, for families.

We've got four recreation centers that are open: Emory, Turkey Thicket, Denning-Stoddard, and one or two others. The Kennedy Center is also open and the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center where people can go if they need to and we're already set up for that.

And all of our day in and day out homeless shelters are open so that people will not have to be on the streets unless they just choose to. We can't urge people strongly enough at this stage to stay indoors. Don't go outside.

WHITFIELD: What about mass transit in D.C.?

GRAY: Well, it's still open. We have a wonderful metro system here. We met with them yesterday. We've continued to communicate with them throughout the day today and the transit system is going to continue to operate unless we get conditions that would counter- indicate that but, right now, we plan to keep it open.

WHITFIELD: All right, Mayor Vincent Gray, thanks so much. All the best there in the nation's capitol as you--

GRAY: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: --brace for Hurricane Irene, already being felt there in so many different ways and Hurricane Irene making a huge impact, not just on traveling in and out of the Washington, D.C., area but really all along the East Coast. We're going to check in with our sources right after this.