The full extent of the storm damage won’t be known until after the hurricane weakens, sometime late Sunday.
In Norfolk, as Irene heralded itself with sheets of rain and howling gusts of wind that peaked around 60 mph, a massive water main break on a city street erupted about 4 p.m. and sprayed water like a geyser at least 30 feet in the air. WAVY Channel 10 news reported that some residents had no water, particularly in low-lying areas of the city.
Even before Irene made landfall, President Obama signed emergency declarations for nine states, allowing the federal government to pay some costs and assist in cleanup.
Cities up and down the East Coast were particularly vulnerable to its fury.
Houses in Virginia Beach were sliced open, and some empty homes were looted.
And in New York City, where 370,000 people were ordered to evacuate, the city girded for the storm’s crippling impact. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg warned that high-rise buildings were likely to suspend elevator service so that no one would be trapped during a power outage. A storm surge is likely to send water streaming through the streets of Lower Manhattan and Wall Street, and electricity would be cut before that happens.
Officials had been making increasingly dire predictions about Irene for days, and even veterans of other hurricanes scrambled to get out of the storm’s path.
More than 2 million people were ordered to evacuate along the coast, and some shelters were overwhelmed.
McDonnell said that more than 3,000 people have been taken in at 74 shelters around Virginia. Two dozen are in Hampton Roads alone.
In the Washington region, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties each opened two shelters for displaced residents. In the District, three shelters opened and recreation centers and schools were on standby to be turned into shelters if needed.
Hampton Roads served as an early warning of the storm’s strength, even though it had been downgraded a notch to a Category 1 hurricane.
Five homes were severely damaged in the Sandbridge Beach area south of the city — with the roofs blown off two and collapsed walls in others — in what fire officials suspect was a small tornado or strong microburst, said Battalion Chief Tim Riley of the Virginia Beach Fire Department. The homes were empty because occupants had heeded the mandatory evacuation order, he said.
Police vehicles swarmed into the area after several people reported looters in the damaged homes. Two people were arrested, accused of looting in the area, said city spokeswoman Mary Hancock. More details were not available.