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Emergency declared in New York as Hurricane Irene closes in

New York: A state of emergency has been declared in New York as the US East Coast geared up for hurricane Irene which is expected to make its first landfall over the weekend and dump about 15 inches of rain in the area.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said measures were being put in place in preparation for the potential impact of the hurricane and state and local agencies are working on emergency response efforts.

New York became the latest state to declare emergency after Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina began implementing measures to tackle the massive storm.

A state of emergency would enable New York to use state resources to assist local governments more effectively and quickly.

“In this emergency I am activating all levels of state government to prepare for any situation that may be caused by Hurricane Irene,” Cuomo said today.

“We are communicating with our federal and local partners to track the storm and to plan a coordinated response, and we will deploy resources as needed to the areas expected to be hit the hardest.”

Urging New Yorkers to personally prepare for hurricane conditions, Cuomo said people should take stock of their emergency supplies, such as water, non-perishable food, radios, batteries and first aid kits.

Currently, Hurricane Irene is a category 3 storm with winds blowing at nearly 208 kmph (130 mph).

It has battered the Bahamas and is expected to hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks by Saturday afternoon with winds around 185 kmph (115 mph).

It will move up the East Coast over the weekend, dumping rain from Virginia to New York City before it reaches Connecticut.

New York’s Emergency Operations Center in Albany has been ordered to operate twenty-four hours a day.

Cuomo said his administration is in contact with local officials, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and county executives, to coordinate preparation for medical, power or transportation emergencies.

The state government is also communicating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service to discuss the potential tracks of the storm.

State police, military and naval personnel are developing plans to put hundreds of troops on stand by to deal with storm-related response.

The Police Department has positioned 50 small boats at station houses in low-lying areas.

The NYPD Special Operations Division also has several helicopters and 33 police boats on the stand-by.

Cuomo said actual strength of the hurricane will depend on its course up the east coast.

“Parts of the state that are adjacent to coastal waters, such as Long Island and New York City, are considered most at risk.Inland locations can also be affected by heavy rainfall and strong winds, which can cause flooding and power outages.”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a “worst case scenario”, measures will be put in place to evacuate New Yorkers living in low-lying areas of Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Queens, South Beach and other low-lying areas on Staten Island and Manhattan.

“By the time Irene gets to us, which is forecast to do sometime on Sunday, it certainly will still be a powerful storm – possibly as strong as a Category 2 hurricane on Long Island, but anything can happen in terms of its direction and its severity.”

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the hurricane killed two people in Haiti, flooded houses, cut roads, unleashed landslides and devastated farm fields during its passage off the coast of the Caribbean country earlier this week.

Nearly 1,000 people were evacuated to emergency centres, OCHA spokesperson Emmanuelle Schneider said.

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