Hurricane Irene
Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during a news conference in New York. Reuters

As the latest Hurricane Irene update shows the storm is likely to make a direct hit on New York Sunday morning at Category 1 strength, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Saturday the city may have to shut off power downtown in order to protect lines from surging salt water. He is also urging residents to heed the warnings.

Bloomberg said in a 9:30 a.m. press conference Saturday that residents who have not evacuated that live in the downtown area prone to hurricane storm surge can expect the city to shut down their power.

You can plan on the possibility of no power downtown, the mayor said.

Bloomberg said Consolidated Edison Co. of New York will make the final decision about whether to cut the power in the next 24 hours as the storm approaches and strikes the city, likely with a rare direct hit. He said the decision will have to be made in advance of water rising, so storm track will likely be the determining factor.

If New York remains in Irene's direct path, the power will likely go off Saturday afternoon or Saturday night.

The most dangerous thing we have to deal with is the storm surge and there is no indication that the forecast for that has changed. Mayor Bloomberg said. There is also serious risk of falling tree limbs in our parks.

Bloomberg said Consolidated Edison much ensure that facilities aren't damaged in the effort to spare long-term effects from Hurricane Irene. The latest forecast show Irene, currently lashing North Carolina's Outer Banks, causing significant beach erosion, power outages and also one confirmed death so far, is heading on a track for New York.

Models show Irene is likely to still be packing hurricane force winds of 75 miles per hour when it reaches the city.

A storm surge of four to seven feet is likely, Bloomberg said.

The most important thing is to make sure (Consolidated Edison) facilities aren't damaged, which would take a long time to repair. If salt water gets into the underground cables and those cables are carrying electricity, there is a real chance of damage to those lines, he said. There is a lot less chance of damage to the lines if those power cables are not carrying power.

New York has issued several mandatory evacuation orders, and more than 350,000 residents have been told to leave low lying areas including the Financial District. New York's MTA, which runs subway and bus lines, was preparing to shut down at noon on Saturday, and major airports including JFK and LaGuardia were halting inbound flights at noon.

Bloomberg said the possibility is strong that New York will take on a lot of water in downtown streets of Manhattan. He urged residents to take the storm seriously.

Let's stop thinking this is something that we can play with, Bloomberg said. Staying behind is dangerous. Staying behind is foolish and it's against the law.

Bloomberg was referring to unprecedented evacuation orders for the city's lowest areas by 5 p.m. Saturday. By noon on Saturday, the first outer rain bands of Hurricane Irene began to dampen the city as residents who didn't have to evacuate made last-minute runs to grocery stores. Many store shelves were bare, and canned items were virtually all gone at some stores.

Heed the warnings. It isn't cute to sit there and say, 'I'm tougher than any storm. They don't know what they're talking about,' Mr. Bloomberg said. I hope this is not necessary but it's certainly prudent to protect your life. And you putting our first responders' lives in danger, where if you need them to respond later on for something that you could have prevented, just isn't smart.