People along the Eastern seaboard continued to watch and wait warily as Hurricane Irene continued to move slowly northward at 14 mph on a projected path to make landfall on Saturday with the Carolinas and New York in its sights.
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey all declared states of emergency as of Thursday.
The National Hurricane Center said Friday morning that Irene's maximum winds had weakened to 110 mph, now making it a Category 2 storm, a decrease from the 115 mph winds reported a day earlier. But forecasters warn the storm could gain speed as it gets closer to the coasts.
The uncommonly large storm has already raked through the Caribbean. Forecasters said Irene has hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extended 90 miles from its center on Friday, and winds of at least 40 mph stretched up to 255 miles out.
The storm coupled with torrential rains is expected to flood the East Coast, while intensifying flooding in the Mid-Atlantic states.
About 250,000 residents of the flood-prone Zone A, in New York, including South Beach and Midland Beach in Staten Island, are facing the risk of floods.
We are also notifying the other hospitals in the other Zone A areas as well as nursing homes and senior centers that they must - I repeat, must - evacuate beginning tomorrow and complete the process by 9 p.m. tomorrow night, said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday.
Residents and tourists in the three counties along the coastline of North Carolina were evacuated and asked to move inland on Thursday. They have been asked to evacuate the region entirely by Friday.
Bloomberg told the New York Daily News on Thursday that it was very conceivable that he will order a mandatory evacuation of all low-lying areas of the city by Saturday.
The storm is predicted to be very dangerous, the mayor added.
New York City is prepared to shut down its entire mass transit system, if necessary, on Saturday as it braces for Irene, officials said. Nursing homes in low-lying areas received orders to evacuate completely on Thursday.
Meterologists warned of potential problems from storm surge from Long Island to Cape Cod.
If the storm followed the exact track of it, there could be considerable wind damage and tidal flooding out in those areas, James Aman, senior meteorologist with WeatherBug, told Reuters on Thursday. There potentially could be some storm surge problems out around the eastern tip of Long Island, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, some of the areas around Boston that face Massachusetts Bay.