SUNDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Experts at the National
Hurricane Center on Sunday downgraded Hurricane Irene to Tropical
Storm status, with early reports from New York City showing less
damage from the storm than had originally been feared.
Nevertheless, at least nine people are dead across the East
Coast, nearly 2 million homes are without power and damage to
property is continuing as Irene makes her slow progress north.
When Irene first made landfall in North Carolina early Saturday,
officials at the NHC noted a slight weakening of wind speeds --
from over 100 mph down to about 90 mph -- and downgraded it to a
Category 1 hurricane. At the time, experts said that demotion would
not lessen the storm's impact on people and property, since Irene's
huge size and slow rate of travel meant flooding could be
"The emphasis for this storm is on its size and duration, not necessarily how strong the strongest winds are," National Hurricane Center expert Mike Brennan told the Associated Press.
Emergency officials in six states and New England had already
told an estimated 55 million residents to brace for the worst this
weekend, and over 2 million people have been told to move to safer
areas. More than 1 million people in New Jersey, 315,000 in
Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia and
100,000 in Delaware have been told to evacuate.
Early on Sunday New York City, its streets deserted and transit
system closed, braced for the onslaught. But according to
The New York Times, as of late morning there were no reports of major damage (such as damage to skyscrapers) and flooding so far has been "limited."
However, high winds, downed trees and flying debris have posed
dangers to those in Irene's path. According to media reports, at
least five people have died so far across a number of states after
trees fell on them or their homes. Two others have died after
making the fatal decision to surf or play in the waves churned up
by the storm.
Power outages are widespread and already affect nearly 2 million
AP added. Over 900,000 customers in Virginia and North
Carolina have lost electricity, supplier Dominion Resources said,
while Baltmore Gas & Electric said that nearly a
quarter-million of its customers are without power.
The current forecast places Irene over northern New England by
Monday morning, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.
President Barack Obama has declared federal emergencies in eight
states ranging from North Carolina to New Hampshire, freeing up
government support for help after the storm. According to the
Times, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has 18 disaster-response teams in readiness, and over 100,000 National Guard members are also available to help.
But there is much people still in the path of the storm can do
to prepare. Steps that residents should take include putting
together an emergency kit with 72 hours' worth of food and water,
developing a family communications plan, and listening to the radio
or TV for information about risks and evacuations.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an alert Friday
telling residents to have a plan for storing emergency medications
and medical supplies safely, particularly those people with health
concerns or those in areas where the power goes out.
Only lifesaving drugs should be taken if the container is
contaminated; all other medications should be thrown away if they
are exposed to contaminated flood water. Insulin loses its potency
in warm temperatures, so try to keep it as cool as possible, the
alert said. If you store it on ice, do not let it freeze,
If you have a "life-supporting" or "life-sustaining" device that
depends on electricity, call your doctor's office for information
on how to maintain function in the event of a loss of power.
Should flooding occur, do not consume any food that may have
come into contact with floodwater. Check with your local health
department to assess if tap water is safe to drink -- if it is not,
drink bottled water or boil water for one minute before
Other federal government recommendations if the hurricane is
likely to strike your area include:
- Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning
and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers
- Close storm shutters and secure outdoor objects or bring them
indoors. If you don't have shutters, board up windows with 5/8-inch
marine plywood, cut to fit and ready to install. Putting tape on
windows does not prevent them from breaking.
- To reduce roof damage, install straps or additional clips to
securely fasten your roof to the frame structure.
- Clear clogged rain gutters so they won't overflow.
- Turn off propane tanks.
- If you have a boat, moor it.
- Turn off utilities if told to do so. Otherwise, set the
refrigerator thermostat to its coldest level and keep its door(s)
People should evacuate under the following conditions:
- If you are told to do so by local authorities. Follow their
- If you live in a mobile home or temporary structure.
- If you live in a high-rise building. Hurricane winds are
stronger at higher elevations.
- If you live on the coast, on a floodplain, near a river, or on
an inland waterway.
- If you feel you are in danger.
If you are unable to evacuate, go to your safe room. If you do
not have a safe room, you should:
- Stay indoors during the storm and keep away from windows and
- Secure and brace external doors and close all interior
- Keep curtains and blinds closed.
- Take refuge in a small interior room, closet or hallway on the
lowest level. Lie on the floor under a table or another sturdy
- Don't be fooled if there is a lull in the storm. It could be
the eye of the storm, which will be followed by a resumption of
The U.S. government's Ready America website has more about
staying safe during a hurricane.