The New York City has experienced unprecedented mandatory evacuations as part of emergency preparations on Friday as the massive Category 1 storm with a speed of 90 mph, teamed up with heavy rains, has approached.

As Hurricane Irene headed north, heavy downpours and tropical storm force winds began sweeping with rising force across the North Carolina coast.

Due to Irene, Washington and other states from Carolinas through Maine declared emergencies. Experts said the storm, a nearly 600 mile (960 km)-wide hurricane that compelled 55 million Americans on the eastern seaboard to prepare for, could cause billions of dollars in damages, Reuters reported.

For a nation that still remembers the destructions caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the impact of the approaching large storm could be extremely dangerous and costly, President Barack Obama said. All indications point to this being a historic hurricane.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and killed up to 1,800 people. It caused $80 billion in damage.

 In east North Carolina, where the storm is predicted to make landfall on Saturday morning, residents and vacationers were evacuating from Irene's path. As part of preparation for the deadly storm and flooding on Sunday in the city, authorities have ordered New Yorkers to leave homes in low-lying areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Evacuations are taking place in some New York hospitals located in flood-prone areas. New York's transit system, which carries 8.5 million people a weekday, is also reportedly shutting down around noon (1600 GMT) on Sunday.

We've never done a mandatory evacuation before and we wouldn't be doing it now if we didn't think this storm had the potential to be very serious, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference.

U.S. airlines also canceled more than 3,000 flights and moved airplanes out of Irene's path.

According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in the response to Irene, over 100,000 National Guard forces are available if needed in East Coast states.

As the preparations to cope with a potential major natural disaster have ramped up, coastal communities stocked up food and water, and tried to protect homes, vehicles and boats.

We've been through about four or five (hurricanes), but this looks like it'll be the worst, Henry Burke, a vacation homeowner in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, told Reuters.

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