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Hurricane Irene hits New York amid storm surge fears

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Hurricane Irene hits New York amid storm surge fears

Worst of storm hits city early Sunday after making a second landfall on East Coast

  • New Yorkers play Slip 'n' Slide in Times Square early Sunday as Hurricane Irene made its way into the city.
    CBSNewsOnline screengrabNew Yorkers play Slip 'n' Slide in Times Square early Sunday as Hurricane Irene made its way into the city.

Hurricane Irene barreled into New York City early Sunday after making its second landfall at Little Egg Inlet, New Jersey, near Atlantic City.

The storm has weakened since first making landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, on Saturday, but Irene is continuing to churn storm surge and flood waters toward the Jersey Shore, The New York Times says.

Hurricane Irene is now classified as a weak Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds at 75 mph, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. At 5 a.m., the center reported the storm surge of 3.1 feet at Cape May, New Jersey., 3.8 feet in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and 3.9 feet in New York Harbor, the Times reports.

As the hurricane approached New York, the city was deluged with torrential rains and strong winds, causing flooding and power outages, the Times says. Hundreds of thousands of residents were reported to have lost power.

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for Brooklyn and Queens, in effect through 11 a.m.

New York City had shut down ahead of the storm. The city's pubic transit system was closed — the first time transportation has been shut in New York City due to a natural disaster — and low-lying areas evacuated because of fears of severe flooding in parts of Queens, Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan including the financial district. Some 370,000 people had been told to leave.

City officials have warned of the potential for flooding in New York City at high tide, at about 8 a.m. on Sunday.

As Hurricane Irene continues to pass through the city, many residents fear a storm surge affecting New York's Hudson River, the BBC says. 

The storm is moving slowly and expected to pass through New York City by Sunday afternoon, heading into New England. Earlier Sunday the hurricane tore through Ocean City, Maryland. 

Eight people have died as a result of Hurricane Irene which has knocked out power and piers as it churns up the U.S. east coast. CNN says the storm has knocked out power to more than 3 million people along the eastern seaboard so far.

Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Florida, said it would be a "low-end hurricane, high-end tropical storm" by the time it crossed the New York City area late Sunday morning, Reuters reports.

The five main New York-area airports — La Guardia, JFK and Newark, plus two smaller ones — had their last arriving flights about noon Saturday. Professional sports events were postponed and Broadway theaters were dark.

Although it was too early to assess the full threat, Irene was blamed for eight deaths and is the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008.

An 11-year-old boy died in Virginia when a tree fell on his apartment building, while a 15-year-old girl died in North Carolina in a car crash when the traffic lights failed.

Five of the deaths were in North Carolina, where Irene made landfall early on Saturday morning, before heading up the eastern seaboard.

Two men were killed in separate incidents in North Carolina when they were hit by flying tree limb, another person died in the state in a car accident, a passenger died when a tree fell on in a car in Virginia and a surfer in Florida was killed in heavy waves.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told 6500 troops to prepare for emergency relief work, and President Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's command center in Washington, D.C., praising the work of FEMA.

On Wall Street, sandbags were placed around subway grates near the East River because of fear of flooding and Manhattan appeared near deserted.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned New Yorkers that elevators in public housing would be shut down, and elevators in some high-rises would quit working so people don't get trapped if the power goes out.

"The time to leave is right now," Bloomberg said at an outdoor news conference at Coney Island, his shirt soaked from rain.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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