Hurricane Irene is gearing up to be the biggest storm threatening to hit the New York metropolitan area in 26 years.

Should Irene make landfall on Sunday with hurricane strength, it will be one of about five storms that have come within 75 miles of the city, according to data dating to 1851. The most recent storm to have done so is Gloria in 1985, according to the National Weather Service.

A state of emergency was declared in New York Thursday, as officials began to prepare for what is shaping up to be a serious and extreme threat. There are preparation for evacuation contingencies in low-lying areas in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Lower Manhattan.

I encourage New Yorkers to pay close attention to the track of the hurricane and, if necessary, to follow the instructions of emergency officials, said NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo. By properly preparing in advance, we can most calmly and decisively take action if the storm arrives.

Irene, a Category 3 hurricane, has destroyed homes, blocked roads and caused power outages in southeastern Bahamas, where the islands are sparsely populated. Wind speeds as high as 120 mph were recorded.

The storm has the potential to become a Category 4 hurricane, but it is uncertain what strength Irene will be when it reaches the East Coast.

It is also uncertain if Irene will make a direct hit on New York, but the state is making sure it is ready for even tropical storm-like conditions such as heavy rains and winds.

New Yorkers have started to stock up on emergency supplies such as water, non-perishable food, radios, batteries, and first aid kits.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the Department of Environmental Protection and its crews are working hard to clean out catch basins to help mitigate flooding from Irene.

The Police Department could have some 50 small boats at station houses in low-lying areas along with several helicopters and 33 police boats at the ready, Bloomberg said.

Should the worst happen, the mayor added the city will activate other elements of its Coastal Storm Plan to include the possibility of evacuating New Yorkers who live in low-lying areas that could be affected by such storm surges.