US: Coastal evacuations urged as Hurricane Henri heads north

Officials tell millions of people in Hurricane Henri’s path to brace themselves for torrential rain and storm surges.

Rob Edwards, from Newport, Rhode Island, adds extra lines to secure his boat at the Goat Island Marina [Stew Milne/AP Photo]

People have evacuated popular beach communities and made last-minute runs on batteries and petrol as Hurricane Henri churned closer to Long Island and southern New England, while officials pleaded with the millions of people in the storm’s path to brace themselves for torrential rain and storm surges.

Hurricane Henri was on course to collide on Sunday in the late morning or afternoon with a long stretch of coastline, as hurricane warnings extended from near the old whaling port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, across the luxurious oceanfront estates of New York’s Hamptons, to the summer getaway of Fire Island.

Intense winds and potentially dangerous tidal surges were expected as far east as Cape Cod and as far west as the New Jersey shore, and utilities warned ensuing power outages could last a week or even more. Governors urged people to stay home during the brunt of the storm.

Henri was veering a bit further west than originally expected, placing eastern Long Island in its bull’s eye rather than New England. That gave people directly in the storm’s path less time to prepare.

A mandatory evacuation order was issued for some residents closest to the water in Madison, Connecticut. First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons wrote in a public notice, that any “residents who do not leave the evacuation zone by 9pm tonight are putting their lives at risk and public safety crews will not be able to respond to you once winds exceed 50mph.”

Satellite photo showing Henri in the Atlantic ocean off the US on Saturday August 20 [NOAA via AP]

Residents and visitors on Fire Island, a narrow strip of sandy villages barely above sea level off Long Island’s southern coast, were urged to evacuate. The last boats out will leave at 10:40pm on Saturday; after that, officials said, there may be no way out for people who decide to ride out the storm.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pleaded with the state’s residents to make last-minute preparations, warning that heavy rain, winds and storm surges from Henri could be as devastating as Superstorm Sandy in parts of the state. The governor, who will leave office in two days following a sexual harassment scandal, warned that heavy rains were expected to create problems far up into the Hudson River Valley.

“We have short notice. We’re talking about tomorrow,” Cuomo said. “So if you have to move, if you have to stock up, if you have to get to higher ground, it has to be today. Please.”

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont warned residents they should prepare to “shelter in place” from Sunday afternoon through at least Monday morning as the state braces for the first possible direct hit from a hurricane in decades. In Rhode Island, Governor Dan McKee similarly urged state residents stay at home on Sunday and into Monday morning.

“We consider this a serious matter,” McKee said at a news conference.

Officials said Logan International Airport in Boston was expected to remain open, but that some flights likely would be cancelled. And service on some branches of New York City’s commuter rail system will be suspended on Sunday. Amtrak service on Sunday between New York and Boston was cancelled.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker expressed relief on Saturday that the latest models suggest Henri won’t make a direct hit on the state.

But Baker and McKee at separate briefings warned that high winds and heavy rains still could lead to widespread and lengthy power outages

Robin Berthet watches as his sailboat is hauled out of the water onto dry land in advance of an expected storm in Plymouth, Massachusetts [Phil Marcelo/AP Photo]

The White House said President Joe Biden discussed preparations with northeastern governors and that New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who succeeds Cuomo on Tuesday, also participated.

Biden later began approving emergency declarations with Rhode Island.

Regardless of Henri’s exact landfall, broad impacts were expected across a large swath of the northeast, extending inland to Hartford, Connecticut, and Albany, New York, and eastward to Cape Cod, which is teeming with tens of thousands of summer tourists.

Storm surge between 3 and 5 feet (1 to 1.5m) is possible from Flushing, New York, to Chatham, Massachusetts, and for parts of the North Shore and South Shore of Long Island, the hurricane centre said.

Rainfall between 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 centimetres) is expected Sunday through Monday.

Source: AP