The center of the storm was still about 265 miles (427 kilometers) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving to the north at 14 mph (22 kph). Forecasters warned wind-whipped water could create a dangerous storm surge, with levels along the state's Albemarle and Pamlico sounds rising as much as 11 feet (3.35 meters).
In Washington, Irene dashed hopes of dedicating a 30-foot (10-meter) sculpture to Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday on the National Mall. While a direct strike on the nation's capital appeared slim, organizers said the forecasts of wind and heavy rain made it too dangerous to summon a throng they expected to number up to 250,000.
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were told Thursday to pack a bag and be prepared to move elsewhere. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said public transportation in New York City would shut down around noon (1700 GMT) Saturday, and major bridges also could shut down if conditions become too windy.
The nation's biggest city has not seen a hurricane in decades, and a hurricane warning hasn't been issued there since Hurricane Gloria hit in 1985 as a Category 2 storm, said Ashley Sears, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Even if the winds aren't strong enough to damage buildings in a metropolis made largely of brick, concrete and steel, a lot of New York's subways and other infrastructure are underground, making them subject to flooding.
New York's two airports are close to the water and could be inundated, as could densely packed neighborhoods, if the storm pushes ocean water into the city's waterways, officials said.
The five main New York City-area airports will be closed to arriving passenger flights beginning at noon (1700 GMT) on Saturday, aviation officials said.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports and area bridges and tunnels, said Friday that many weekend departures already had been canceled in anticipation of the hurricane.
Hundreds of flights could be affected, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said. The airports handle about 3,000 flights each day on average during the week, fewer on weekends, he said.
In 2008, the city had a brush with Tropical Storm Hanna, which dumped 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain on Manhattan.
In the last 200 years, New York has seen only a few significant hurricanes. In September 1821, a hurricane raised tides by 13 feet (4 meters) in an hour and flooded all of Manhattan south of Canal Street, the southernmost tip of the city. The area now includes Wall Street and the World Trade Center memorial.
An infamous 1938 storm dubbed the Long Island Express came ashore about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of the city and then hit New England, killing 700 people and leaving 63,000 homeless.
The first U.S. injuries from Irene appeared to be in South Florida near West Palm Beach, where eight people were washed off a jetty Thursday by a large wave churned up by the storm.
Peltz reported from New York. Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker in Raleigh, North Carolina; Seth Borenstein in New York; Wayne Parry, Geoff Mulvihill and Bruce Shipkowski in New Jersey; Brock Vergakis in Virginia; Randall Chase in Ocean City, Maryland; Harry Weber in Miami; Martha Waggoner in North Carolina; and David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this story.
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