Hurricane Irene hits North Carolina, moves up US east coast

27 August 2011 21:37  [Source: ICIS news]

Hurricane IreneHOUSTON (ICIS)--Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina on Saturday morning, sending millions of US east coast residents fleeing for higher ground.

Packing hurricane-force winds up to 90 miles from its centre, Irene made landfall about 7:30 hours east coast time (11:30 hours GMT) on the outer banks of North Carolina, with winds of 85 miles/hour (140km/hour), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

As of 1400 hours east coast time, Hurricane Irene was about 95 miles south of Norfolk, Virginia and was moving north at 13 miles/hour, the hurricane centre said. Hurricane warnings were issued from North Carolina to Massachusetts.

Forecasts showed the hurricane hitting New York on Sunday and continuing into the New England region, producing 6-12 inches in rainfall accumulation.

“Irene is forecast to gradually weaken as it moves along the east of coast of the United States due to land interaction,” the hurricane centre said, warning that “whether Irene is a strong tropical storm or hurricane over New England will make little difference in the expected impact of damaging winds … a dangerous storm surge … and flooding rains”.

The hurricane had caused at least four fatalities in the US on Saturday, according to news media reports.

The storm surge was expected to raise water levels by 5-9 feet in North Carolina and by 4-8 feet in Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, causing flooding along coastal areas, inlets and rivers.

The hurricane prompted the evacuation of 2.5m people along the east coast, including 300,000 people in New York City, where the mass transit system was halted on Saturday, according to news media reports. Irene also caused airlines to cancel thousands of flights along the east coast.

Infrastructure problems and logistics issues in the wake of Hurricane Irene may threaten operations at US east coast chemical plants more than damage to the plants, an industry group said on Friday.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said while most facilities did not incur major structural damage and were operational within days after storms like hurricanes Katrina and Ike, many were unable to resume normal production because of external consequences of the storms.

“Extensive damage to the local infrastructure blocked the flow of key supplies, like electricity and natural gas, necessary to manufacture chemicals, while damaged roads and rail lines prevented the delivery of products to consumers,” the ACC said.

Companies with interests in the storm’s potential path have moved to secure the safety of their employees and operations.

US producer DuPont has 19 manufacturing sites, offices and research locations in Irene’s path.

“The company follows a strict, documented planning process that details the critical steps to prepare for a storm such as this,” said spokeswoman Tara Stewart.

Flooding from the storm surge and high rainfall were considered the most imminent dangers to east coast refineries as a result of Hurricane Irene.

Canada’s PotashCorp halted phosphate mining at its Aurora site in North Carolina in advance of Irene but the state’s polyethylene terephthalate  (PET) manufacturers said they expected the hurricane to have little or no impact on their operations, which are further inland.

Additional reporting by Bobbie Clark, Al Greenwood, Sheena Martin, Sam Weatherlake and Fiona Boyd

By: Brian Ford
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