Aug. 26, 2011 -- Hurricane Irene has blown away the weekend plans of millions, from airports to cruise ships to island and beach holidays, as travelers rely on storm trackers and households prepare for strong winds, rain and possible flooding.
President Obama cut his vacation short by one day, conferencing with his emergency response team, and warned citizens of the dangers of Hurricane Irene.
"I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don't wait. Don't delay," President Obama warned Friday morning from Martha's Vineyard, urging citizens to visit ready.gov if they are not sure how to prepare.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York City will shut down subways and other mass transit starting noon Saturday.
"We are fully committed and we are preparing for the worst," Gov. Cuomo said in a statement.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an evacuation of residents in specific low-lying areas by 5 p.m. Saturday. He said this is the first time the city has ever mandated the evacuation of a potential flood zone. The last shutdown of the whole mass transit system took place in 2005 for a labor strike.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Southeastern Penn. Trans. Authority (SEPTA) public transportation will cease all service beginning 12:30 a.m. EST Saturday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, eastbound traffic into Atlantic City will close to help evacuate residents in shore areas. Christie also announced Friday afternoon that all gaming activity in Atlantic City casinos will be suspended as of noon Saturday. It is the third time in the 33-year history of legalized gambling in New Jersey that the city's 11 casinos will be shut down, according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, households along the East Coast are stocking up on flashlights, water and food while there is concern that strong winds and flooding could lead to losses in corn, soybean and other commodities. Some drivers are filling up their cars at the pump to evacuate, as the possibility of refineries closing on the East Coast pushes gas prices higher.
Scott Spencer, senior vice president of Chubb Personal Insurance, said homeowner's policies usually do not cover loss due to flooding, but coverage can be purchased from the federal government. Homeowners can ask their agents for details or contact the National Flood Insurance Program at 1-800-427-4661.
Amtrak has canceled most trains traveling south of Washington, D.C., Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The railroad announced at 5:40 p.m. EST Friday it is canceling more East Coast trains with service reductions beginning on Saturday and will not operate trains in the Northeast on Sunday.
Amtrak may make additional announcements as the storm travels north.
While major airports remain open, airlines have canceled 5,736 flights for the weekend, according to FlightAware.com on Friday evening. FlightAware said 381 flights were canceled Friday, 1,380 on Saturday and 3,975 on Sunday.
Jetblue is the first major airline to revise its schedule ahead of Hurricane Irene, pre-canceling 891 flights from Saturday through Monday, with the majority canceled Sunday into Monday. The airline will run extra service on Saturday night and Monday night to re-accommodate customers, who are being contacted today by the airline, and put on later flights.
A spokeswoman said the airline has issued waivers for change and cancel fees for many of its East Coast cities from North Carolina to Maine.
Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority told ABC News Friday morning about 100 out of 400 flights have been canceled for Saturday at RDU and it anticipates further disruptions for flights along the East Coast through Monday, Aug. 29.
While JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, Stewart and Teterboro airports are still open, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees those airports, said it is ready for potential disruptions.
The Port Authority said "additional staff and contractor employees will be assisting customers as needed in every area of airport operations," and they will "stock hundreds of cases of bottled water, diapers, cots, blankets and pillows to provide to stranded passengers if necessary. Under terms of the agency's concession contracts, at least one food vendor in every passenger terminal must remain open 24 hours so that food is available at any time of day or night."
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan (DCA) and Dulles (IAD) airports, said it is not planning to close those airports but anticipates "many" flight cancellations as Hurricane Irene approaches, according to its Twitter account.
People coming to Boston Logan International Airport or Worcester Regional Airport should check flight status with their airline while passengers heading to Cruiseport Boston should contact their cruise line for up to date sailing times, said Massachusetts Port Authority.
Hurricane Irene is also closing some colleges or disrupting them along the East Coast. Cape Fear Community College, Mount Olive College and Norfolk State University have announced temporary closures, according to Inside Higher Ed. Columbia University in New York City, Ursinus College and Haverford College in Penn., Rutgers University in N.J. and the University of New Hampshire have announced changes for new student arrivals.
In New York City, which is closing its mass transit including the subway at noon Saturday, the shows will go on. According to the official site for the shows, "all Broadway shows in NYC for the coming weekend are playing as scheduled. For questions about exchange or refund policies, please contact your point of purchase. We will update this page with any additional information we receive."
Most cruises set sail on weekends, so the ships that had already departed were clear of the storm by the time it made landfall, said Paul Motter, editor of CruiseMates.com. However, all the major cruise lines have altered their schedules to some degree.
The safest location for a ship during a hurricane is at sea, well away from the storm. A ship should never be in port when a storm hits, because the vessel can be dashed against the pier and sustain damage, he said.
The biggest challenge comes when a hurricane makes landfall the same day that the ship is scheduled to be in its U.S. home port, Motter said. Cruise lines will usually opt to keep ships out to sea until "the coast is clear." The passengers get an extra day of "fun," although the seas may be rougher than usual.
Motter said the worst part of a hurricane during a cruise may be the airline reservation chaos passengers face when they disembark a day later than planned.
Carnival Cruise LinesAs of Friday, 1 p.m., Carnival announced changes to cruises departing this weekend to the Bahamas and Key West, updating guests and suggesting they continue checking the company website.
Carnival Pride has been directed by the US Coast Guard to arrive early from the previous cruise and proceed to a secure, alternate location until the storm passes. If the track remains the same, embarkation is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 29 from 10am to 2pm at the Baltimore cruise terminal.
Celebrity CruisesCelebrity Summit did not depart Kings Wharf, Bermuda, Thursday at 6 p.m. Instead, the ship will remain in Bermuda until 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26. As of Friday morning, the cruise line anticipates the ship will arrive in Bayonne, New Jersey, on Aug. 29.
Holland AmericaHAL's Veendam which left August 21 for a seven-day Bermuda Cruise, departed Bermuda at 5:00pm on Thursday, Aug. 25, and is scheduled to arrive in New York one day early on Saturday, ahead of the storm's anticipated arrival, as of 10 p.m. PDT Thursday.
Norwegian Cruise LineThe cruise line announced Friday at 11 a.m. EST changes to the schedules of the Norwegian Jewel and will provide an update about the Norwegian Gem later today.
Explorer of the Seas will depart Cape Liberty, Bayonne, New Jersey, on Saturday at 4 p.m., one hour earlier than originally scheduled.
On Friday at noon EST, it also cancelled Majesty of the Seas' call to CocoCay on Saturday and Monarch of the Seas' call to CocoCay on Sunday.
Monarch of the Seas will now stay overnight in Nassau, Bahamas, arriving at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday and departing at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
Majesty of the Seas will now spend Saturday at sea and call on Nassau, Bahamas, on Sunday as scheduled.
Dennis Powell and Stephanie Smith contributed to this report.