A caller to the Rusty Humphries show jokes about the reason behind Hurricane Irene.
Hurricane Irene caused extraordinary disruption Friday as it zeroed in for a catastrophic run up the East Coast. At least 2.3 million were ordered to move to safety.
"This is probably the largest number of people that have been threatened by a single hurricane in the United States," said Jay Baker, a geography professor at Florida State University.
The storm may affect more than 65 million people, or one in five Americans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
Irene was expected to make landfall today near Morehead City, N.C., on the southern end of the Outer Banks. Authorities in points farther north begged people to get out of harm's way.
The hurricane lost some strength but still packed winds of almost 100 m.p.h., and officials feared it could wreak devastation.
"Don't wait. Don't delay," said President Barack Obama, who cut short his vacation by a day and return to Washington. "I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now.
"All indications point to this being a historic hurricane."
Hurricane warnings were issued from North Carolina to New York, and watches were posted farther north, on the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard off Massachusetts.
Evacuation orders covered 1 million people in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina and 100,000 in Delaware. In addition, New York City ordered more than 300,000 people who live in flood-prone areas to leave.
Evacuation doesn't mean all will leave
With Hurricane Irene looming, New York City ordered Friday that more than 300,000 people who live in flood-prone areas leave, including Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan, Coney Island and the beachfront Rockaways. But it was not clear how many would go, how they would get out or where they would go. Most New Yorkers don't have a car.
On top of that, the city said it would shut down the subways and buses at noon today, only a few hours after the first rain is expected to fall. The transit system carries about 5 million people on an average weekday, fewer on weekends. It has been shut down several times before, including during a transit workers' strike in 2005 and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but never for weather.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was little authorities could do to force people out.
"We do not have the manpower to go door-to-door and drag people out of their homes," he said. "Nobody's going to get fined. Nobody's going to go to jail. But if you don't follow this, people may die."
Shelters were opening Friday afternoon, and the city was placed under its first hurricane warning since 1985.
Transit systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia also announced plans to shut down, and Washington declared a state of emergency.
Hundreds of thousands of airline passengers were grounded for the weekend as flights were canceled. Late Friday, aviation officials said they would close the five main New York City-area airports to arriving domestic and international flights beginning at noon Saturday. Many departures also were canceled.
Body bags ordered
Thousands of people were already without power. In Charleston, S.C., several people had to be rescued after a tree fell on their car.
Defying the orders, hardy holdouts in North Carolina put plywood on windows, gathered last-minute supplies and tied down boats. More than half of the people who live on two remote islands, Hatteras and Ocracoke, had ignored orders to leave, and as time to change their minds ran short, officials ordered dozens of body bags. The last ferry from Ocracoke left at 4 p.m. Friday.
"I anticipate we're going to have people floating on the streets, and I don't want to leave them lying there," said Richard Marlin, fire chief for one of the seven villages on Hatteras. "The Coast Guard will either be pulling people off their roofs like in Katrina, or we'll be scraping them out of their yards."
National Hurricane Center meteorologist David Zelinsky said earlier Friday that he expected the storm to arrive as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane. Later in the day, other forecasts showed it would strike most of the coast as a Category 1. The scale runs from 1, barely stronger than a tropical storm, to a monstrous 5. Friday night, Irene was a Category 2.
Regardless of how fierce the storm is when it makes landfall, the coast of North Carolina was expected to get winds of more than 100 m.p.h. and waves perhaps as high as 11feet, Zelinsky said.
"This is a really large hurricane, and it is dangerous," he said. "Whether it is a Category 2 or 3 at landfall, the effects are still going to be strong. I would encourage people to take it seriously."