Hurricane Irene
Beach workers fill sand bags on Long Beach on Long Island, New York, August 26, 2011. Hurricane Irene, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season, churned toward the U.S. East Coast Friday as cities scrambled to prepare, resorts emptied of beach goers, and energy firms braced for the storm. REUTERS

Hurricane Irene is heading straight for the East Coast, prompting NYC to evacuate hospitals and nursing home in vulnerable areas Friday morning. The National Weather Service has declared a hurricane watch for NYC, Long Island, and Connecticut. A hurricane warning has been issued for New Jersey.

Mass transit officials are preparing a shutdown, which will begin Saturday. The entire NYC subway system will be shut down, including buses, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday. State officials are planning emergency services for Hurricane Irene's wake. Loss of electricity is extremely likely.

Homeowners in New York City and Long Island are being urged to cover windows with plywood and make plans for pet evacuations.

The hurricane, which will arrive within 24 to 36 hours, prompted a hurricane watch after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced earlier that the city is prepared for evacuation in vulnerable areas like Coney Island, Battery Park City, parts of Staten Island, and the Rockaways in Queens.

Twenty-two hospitals and nursing homes have received evacuation orders. Construction has ceased until 7 a.m. Monday.

Coney Island Hospital is preparing to move patients to other parts of New York City, Bloomberg said. Elective surgeries at five hospitals in vulnerable, low-lying hospitals are being cancelled.

Bloomberg warned New Yorkers to avoid parks due to high winds and the distinct possibility of downed trees. And incidentally it's a good idea to stay out of your own backyard if you have trees there, he added.

Due to Hurricane Irene's expected impact on New York City and surrounding areas, Fordham University must change its move-in schedule, Associate Vice President of Safety and Security at Fordham University John Carroll wrote in an e-mail. Freshman and transfer Move-In and opening will occur Monday, Aug. 29: these resident students and parents should arrive at their respective campus (Rose Hill or Lincoln Center) at their assigned move-in times, he added.

Mayor Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation of residents in Zone A, which includes Brooklyn's Coney Island and Manhattan Beach, Far Rockaway and Broad Channel in Queens, South Beach, Midland Beach, low-lying areas on Staten Island, and Battery Park City in Manhattan. We've never done a mandatory evacuation before. But this is a serious storm. We need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is very serious. Do not be fooled by the sun outside, Bloomberg told New Yorkers.