NEW YORK - East Coast residents braced for power outages and rushed to top off their gas tanks as Hurricane Irene swept closer to the region yesterday. Power plants, refineries and pipelines prepared to shut down and utility repair crews gathered equipment to fix downed power lines. Gasoline stations along the East Coast began to run dry Friday. Utility officials and forecasters say millions of people are in danger of losing electric power, some for days. Analysts do not expect widespread or long-lasting gas shortages, though, and they and they don't expect prices for power and gas to rise.
An unusually large number of people may be affected by Irene. That's because it is forecast to stay just offshore-and thus retain much of its power-as it inches up the coast from North Carolina to New England. When a hurricane hits land, it quickly loses steam. Irene could reach North Carolina's Outer Banks on Saturday with winds around 100 mph (160 kph), then head up the coast. Forecasters say Irene is not strengthening, as they had initially feared, but it remains dangerous. The entire Eastern Seaboard lies in the storm's projected path, with flooding and wind damage likely. North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island have declared emergencies. New York City issued evacuation orders to 270,000 people in low-lying areas.