Hurricane Irene Sends Tens of Thousands Fleeing the Coast

Gas stations on empty, ATMs running out, NY airports stock up on diapers, cots.

Aug. 25, 2011 — -- The exodus from the North Carolina coast has begun and tonight it is a slow motion, bumper to bumper march inland as tens of thousands heed warnings to get out of the way of Hurricane Irene.

Gas stations are running out, ATM's are out of cash and one woman was out of a very special night.

Melissa Cook was supposed to get married this weekend.

"The TV showed the mandatory evacuation and I burst into tears," Cook said. "Everything I had planned and dreamed about."

Hurricane Irene's wave of disappointment also affected beach goers in South Carolina. Police closed the beaches to swimming after six swimmers were rescued from rip currents caused by the massive storm.

As Irene -- a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds -- blasted through the Bahamas, the U.S. began bracing for the storm's worst.

To See Irene's Expected Path Over East Coast, Click Here

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, under President Obama's direction, contacted East Coast mayors and governors potentially in Irene's path. Later, she and FEMA director Craig Fugate later held a conference call with state, local, and tribal officials on planning for the storm.

"Given the unpredictability of these storms, we are currently planning for several scenarios, including potential impacts to major metro areas and critical infrastructure," Napolitano said in a Department of Homeland Security news release.

Evacuation orders were issued along the coast of North Carolina today in Dare, Currituck and Cateret counties. There are 180,000 people just in Dare County and another 150,000 people were told to get out of Ocean City, Md.

"This is a very, very serious situation," said Dorothy Toolan, public information officer for Dare County, N.C. "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."

Not everyone was heading out of town. The parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Moorehead City in Cateret County was filled with people stocking up on supplies to ride out the storm.

"I've lived through hurricanes all my life, and I've only run from one," said a man who identified himself simply as George. "Unless it's a (category) 4 or 5 coming straight at me, I'm not leaving."

"I'm going to sit at home, watch television and play on my computer. I'm not worried about this thing," George said.

In Florida, at least 8 people were hurt after a wave knocked them over on the jerry they were on off Boynton Beach Inlet, The Associated Press reported.

Others were taking no chances. A state of emergency was declared in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg said police are deploying more than 80 boats around the city as well as several helicopters to prepare for emergencies. City hospitals have tested their emergency generators, and the city's airports are stockpiling diapers, cots, blankets, pillow and bottles of water.

Fearing Irene's wrath, Amtrak announced it is canceling all train service south of Washington D.C. for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Irene is traveling at 12 mph, making it a slow moving storm which will allow it to hover over an area and area to dump rain and batter it with ferocious winds for an expended period.

It is expected to slam into the North Carolina coast Saturday afternoon and then churn north along the coast as far as Boston. She is expected to arrive in New York Sunday afternoon.

"This one's going to affect everybody as it goes up the coast. We don't see it moving far out to sea and skipping a few of the places that in the past it had skipped," National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said.

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As the storm clears the Bahamas and continues over the warm water of the Atlantic, its wind speed is expected to strengthen and the size of the storm could increase to a category 4 with wind speeds of at least 131 mph.

It is expected to weaken somewhat as it claws its way up the coast, but will likely still be packing winds of 50 to 70 mph when it reaches New York City and Boston. It is expected to dump 6 to 12 inches of rain on the Jersey shore, Long Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In North Carolina, the roadways are clogged as tourists and locals flee to get ahead of the storm. Particularly worrisome are the low lying Outer Banks.

Hurricane Irene Scaring Officials From North Carolina to New York

Capt. Al Foreman has been a charter boat captain for 40 years on the Outer Banks and fears this storm might be the worst he's seen.

"Everything is so low here on the Outer Banks, nothing is built really high. It wouldn't take much of a storm surge to do a lot of damage," Foreman said.

The Navy is preparing to move 126 warships, the entire Second Fleet, out of Irene's path.

What's making Irene's fury unique is not only it's size at 750 miles wide, but its slow pace.

"It's already a fairly large storm and as it moves northwards, it's going to get even larger and very important, this one on our forecast is moving slower by quite a bit than the average storms," Read said. "It gives more time to build up the tidal elevations and the storm surge that will be associated with this storm. It's too early to pinpoint, but there's a large area of the coast that may be impacted by the dangerous storm surge on this path."

Irene is expected to move at 15 to 20 miles per hour as it crosses the northeast, Read said. A typical storm moves at 25 to 35 miles per hour.

Behind Irene, another tropical depression formed in the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center says the depression could be Tropical Storm Jose later today.

ABC News' Steven Portnoy and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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