WILMINGTON, NC - Hurricane Irene lashed North Carolina with driving wind and rain on Saturday as it neared land on a path threatening the densely populated US east coast with flooding and power outages.
New York City ordered unprecedented evacuations and transit shutdowns as states from the Carolinas through to Maine declared emergencies due to Irene, whose nearly 600 mile (960 km) width guaranteed a stormy weekend for tens of millions of people.
With winds of 90 miles per hour, Irene weakened slightly to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale by early on Saturday but it remained a dangerous storm.
"Tonight's the hard night. We're just waiting for it to hit," North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue told CNN.
At 3 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT), the center of Irene was about 60 miles south of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, the US National Hurricane Center said.