Hurricane Irene will parallel the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts Friday as it approaches a Saturday landfall in North Carolina.
Officials in counties and cities along much of the East Coast ordered evacuations.
Follow the latest developments here, or read the full CNN Wire story:
[Updated 11:00 p.m.] New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said cats and dogs would be welcome at the emergency shelters set up for people fleeing the storm.
“If you have your pet bring them with you. … No one should be staying in their homes in an endangered area because they feel like they can't bring their pets with them," Christie said.
Mark Lavorgna, a mayoral spokesman, confirmed that pets are allowed in the 91 emergency evacuation shelters set up in preparation for Hurricane Irene. But “we strongly, strongly argue against it,” he said. “We urge people to bring their pets to friends or familiy’s houses or shelters outside Zone A, but if people need to bring them they can,” said Lavorgna. “They should come leashed and muzzled.”
[Updated 10:36 p.m.] North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue told CNN's Anderson Cooper that the state was prepared but cautious. "We urge people to just be really aware. It doesn't sound like a huge storm right now - 50 mile-an-hour winds - but we think it's going to stay over our state 10 or 12 hours and that's where the problem becomes," she said.
Perdue then referenced reports of a bowl-shaped part of the low-lying coastline that is especially vulnerable to high waters.
"That bowl that you were talking about earlier full of water, it's going to dump somewhere, and when it dumps there's going to be a surge of water and who knows what'll happen," Perdue said.
[Updated 10:23 p.m.] The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will be closed Saturday through Monday because of Hurricane Irene, according to Jane Ahern, public affairs chief of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island.
All units of the Gateway National Recreation Area, Governor’s Island and all National Park sites in Manhattan will be closed to visitors Saturday and Sunday, with a chance of opening Monday depending on storm damage and a safety assessment.
“The safety of our visitors and employees is our top priority at this time,” said National Parks of New York Harbor Commissioner Maria Burkes. “Our park employees are currently working diligently to protect park resources per our Emergency Response Plans.”
[Updated 10:05 p.m.] Russell Honoré, the general famous for his management of the federal government's military response to Hurricane Katrina, told CNN's Piers Morgan Friday night that local authorities were right in calling for mass evacuations in low-lying areas along the Eastern Seaboard.
“I think we have had a cultural shift in government because, working with hurricanes for about the last 10 to 12 years while I was in uniform, local governments and governors were reluctant to make that decision to evacuate because of the impact [of what would happen] if they evacuated people and the storm didn’t come," he said. "But the options of not evacuating people, with the warnings that we have now and the accuracy of prediction, (it) needs to be done,” Honoré said.
[Updated 9:53 p.m.] Maryland's Martin O'Malley was one of several East Coast governors to declare a state of emergency in advance of the storm. Residents of low-lying areas in the state were told to evacuate ahead of what the governor called "a very dangerous and potentially deadly hurricane."
The governor said Friday that "anybody that thinks that this is a normal hurricane and that they can just stick it out is being both selfish, stupid and also diverting essential public safety assets away from the task at hand, which is safeguarding lives and getting people out of the way."
[Updated 9:40 p.m.] The Port Authority has announced the closing of five airports - JFK International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Teterboro and Stewart International - to all arriving passenger flights, international and domestic, starting at noon Saturday.
[Updated 9:15 p.m.] Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper Friday night, stressing the strength and size of the storm heading toward the Northeast.
“For some folks this will be the most significant event perhaps in 20 years from a tropical system,” Rappaport said.
He said unlike typical storms that follow a similar trajectory and curve move toward the sea, Irene"s forecast track comes very close to the shore.
"That means all the weather that's usually, in this case, worst to the east will be much closer to the metropolitan areas this time around," Rappaport said, "and in fact will definitely hit the southern New England area and since there are strong winds, high surge right near the center of the storm, we'll see some of that along the East Coast as well."
[Updated 8:53 p.m.] “The core of the hurricane” was barreling toward the North Carolina coast Friday night, the National Weather Service said in a bulletin. “The hurricane is forecast to move near or over the Mid-Atlantic Coast Saturday night and move over southern New England on Sunday.”
The weather service said maximum sustained winds would remain near 100 mph - a category two hurricane - and wouldn’t weaken until some time Sunday.
“Interests in southeastern Canada should monitor the progress of Irene,” the weather service said.
[Updated 8:38 p.m.] The Giants-Jets game, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been postponed until Monday, the NFL said in a press release.
"Along with the NFL office and the Jets, we have closely monitored the hurricane and the forecast and its potential impact on our area for the past several days," said Giants President and CEO John Mara. "After conferring with (New Jersey) Governor (Chris) Christie, (Jets owner) Woody Johnson and (NFL) Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, we have determined the best course of action for the safety and well being of all is to move the game to Monday night."
[Updated 6:33 p.m.] With public transportation halted due to the incoming storm, all Broadway performances on Saturday and Sunday have been canceled, according to Paul Libin, chairman of the Broadway League.
“The safety and security of theatregoers and employees is everyone's primary concern,” Libin said. “As a result of the suspension of public transportation by government authorities in preparation of Hurricane Irene, all performances will be cancelled on Saturday, August 27th and Sunday, August 28th.”
CNN on the ground: 'Good Night, Irene' and 'Go Away, Irene'
[Updated 6:08 p.m.] The mayor of Annapolis, Maryland, declared an emergency and announced that more police officers will be on patrol in the city.
Police Chief Michael Pristoop warned residents to take police orders seriously. “Everyone needs to be prepared for the worst," he said. "I encourage everyone to evacuate the low-lying areas of Annapolis before Saturday afternoon. Make sure you secure your homes and belongings. Once we begin to feel the affects of the hurricane, everyone should stay off the streets as wires and trees may come down. Don't put yourself in harm's way and don't put our emergency personnel in a position that could have been avoided."
[Updated 5:47 p.m.] President Barack Obama has declared an emergency in New York as the state and surrounding region brace for Hurricane Irene’s impact.
Obama’s order mobilizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and means federal aid will be used to buoy state and local relief efforts in preparation for the storm.
[Updated at 5:00 p.m.] A hurricane warning has been issued from north of Sandy Hook to Sagamore Beach, Massachusetts, including New York, Long Island, Long Island Sound, coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island, Block Island, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
[Updated at 4:34 p.m.] Greyhound said it has delayed or canceled several East Coast routes in preparation for the storm.
Some routes originating in New York; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Richmond, Virginia; Washington, D.C. and Raleigh, North Carolina, have been either pushed back or canceled, the company said on its website.
[Updated at 4:15 p.m.] The Red Cross plans to open shelters and dispatch more than 200 mobile feeding vehicles to the East Coast to aid people in the storm's path, the organization said on its website.
"The Red Cross is moving volunteers, vehicles and supplies, getting ready for a response effort that spans nearly the entire East Coast," Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, said in a statement on the site. "We want everyone in the storm's path to get ready as well by getting a disaster kit, making a family emergency plan, and listening to local officials regarding evacuations."
[Updated at 2:31 p.m.] Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said his city, which is under hurricane warning, will not order evacuations but urged residents, especially those in flood-prone areas, to use common sense and evacuate if necessary.
Significant localized flooding is expected, he said, as are power outages that could last for several hours or even days. He said the city will open three shelters Saturday evening with a maximum capacity to accommodate 6,000 people.
[Updated at 2:26 p.m.] The first family will accompany President Barack Obama when he departs Martha's Vineyard to return to Washington on Friday evening, a White House spokesman said.
[Updated at 2:21 p.m.] American Airlines has tentatively canceled all flights in the Washington area from noon Saturday to noon Sunday, said spokesman Ed Martelle. The airline has also canceled all flights at Raleigh-Durham International Airport scheduled for Saturday.
JetBlue has canceled almost 900 flights in the Northeast ahead of the storm. Most of those are Sunday and Monday flights out of the New York metro area and Boston, said spokesman Mateo Lleras.
[Updated at 2:10 p.m.] Hurricane Irene's winds have dropped to 100 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
As of 2 p.m., the service reported, the hurricane was about 300 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, moving north at 14 mph.
[Updated at 2:01 p.m.] New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said low-lying sections of the city, mostly along the city's waterfront, are under mandatory evacuation orders. The mandatory evacuations, which affect all five boroughs, are the first in New York's history, he said.
[Updated at 1:50 p.m.] Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said 30 agencies are coordinating ahead of Hurricane Irene’s weekend arrival. The state is taking several precautions, he said, including drawing down state reservoirs to provide additional capacity in the event of torrential rains.
Residents should make certain they have supplies and enough food, water, batteries and necessary medications to last for a couple of days.
The worst of the storm is expected Saturday night into Sunday, Patrick said, and downed trees and power lines are expected. He urged residents to stay off the roads. If travel is a must, try to complete it Friday before the storm arrives, he said.
As for air travel, the governor said, as of now, Logan International Airport will remain open, but there will “undoubtedly” be service interruptions.
Patrick said he was aware that this is one of the last summer weekends and said boaters and swimmers should be cautious about riptides and strong currents.
[1:46 p.m. ET] Hurricane Irene threatens nearly 10% of the nation's oil refining capacity that lies in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware, CNNMoney reports.
Gasoline futures traded in New York have spiked, rising 10 cents a gallon this week, largely on fears there will be a disruption in output from the refineries, barge routes or pipelines serving the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard.
[1:42 p.m. ET] New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered up to 900 National Guard troops to report for storm relief efforts.
Cuomo's office also said New York bridges will be closed to traffic if sustained wind speeds exceed 60 mph. The New York State Thruway and possibly other major highways will also be closed if those wind speeds are reached as Hurricane Irene passes.
[1:32 p.m. ET] The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority will begin a systemwide shutdown beginning at noon Saturday, the New York governor's office says.
[1:23 p.m. ET] The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will halt all service beginning at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says. It is the first time ever for such an event.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says New Jersey Transit will suspend service beginning at noon Saturday.
[1:10 p.m. ET] Evacuations have begun at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, official says. About 240 patients will be moved. The hospital is about 2 feet above sea level.
[12:56 p.m ET] President Barack Obama will depart Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, this evening, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said. The National Hurricane Center says it expects to tropical weather watches and warnings to be extended to the New England area this afternoon.
[12:43 p.m. ET] The PGA Tour says The Barclays tournament in Edison, New Jersey, will be shortened to 54 holes so it can be completed before Hurricane Irene moves into the area. The tournament will be complete at the end of Saturday's third round, the PGA Tour said in a statement. The tournament is the first of four playoff events for the tour's FedExCup championship.
Also, Major League Soccer said Saturday's game between the Portland Timbers and D.C. United at RFK Stadium in Washington has been postponed. A make-up date will be announced next week, the league said.
[12:22 p.m. ET] The U.S. Army has ordered the evacuation of Fort Monroe, Virginia, the home of its Training and Doctrine Command. The installation will close at 6 p.m. Friday and will not reopen until any damage from Hurricane Irene has been assessed, according to the fort's website. The fort is on an island at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
[11:49 a.m. ET] Amtrak and major U.S. airlines began canceling routes and flights or putting them on a watch list as Hurricane Irene approached. Southwest Airlines said Friday it would suspend service to Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday. AirTran Airlines canceled 28 flights for Saturday, including flights to New York, Boston and Washington. A quarter of the 400 scheduled flights Saturday at Raleigh-Durham Airport had been canceled, a spokeswoman said Friday.
[11:34 a.m. ET] President Barack Obama warned people in the path of Hurricane Irene to take the dangers of the storm seriously and get prepared now.
"If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now," Obama said Friday morning. "All indications point to this being a historic hurricane."
[11:16 a.m. ET] Staten Island University Hospital in New York has begun evacuating patients, SILive.com reports. Up to 240 patients will be transferred to safer locations and other non-critical patients are being discharged, according to the report.
[11:07 a.m. ET] The National Hurricane Center says it does not expect Hurricane Irene to strengthen before it makes landfall in North Carolina. In its 11 a.m. ET update, Irene had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph with higher gusts. Irene is a Category 2 hurricane. Category 2 storms have winds of 96 mph to 110 mph. Winds of that speed are described as extremely dangerous and capable of causing extensive damage.
[10:59 a.m. ET] The government of the Bahamas has discontinued all warnings associated with Hurricane Irene, the National Hurricane Center says.
[10:55 a.m. ET] Hurricane Irene's maximum sustained winds have dropped to 105 mph, the National Hurricane Center reports. The outer bands of the storm are nearing the North Carolina coast, it says. The storm is moving north at about 14 mph.
[10:25 a.m. ET] Power outages from Hurricane Irene could last a week or more, especially away from urban areas, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate says.
[10:21 a.m. ET] Nursing homes and a hospital in low-lying portions of the New York City area are beginning the evacuation process, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says.
[10:16 a.m. ET] "All of the planning and preparation will be in vain if people don’t heed those evacuation orders," Federal Emergency Management Administrator Craig Fugate said at a briefing Friday morning.
[10:12 a.m. ET] A total of 70 military aircraft from bases along the East Coast will take refuge from Hurricane Irene at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, CNN affiliate WDTN reports.
[10:08 a.m. ET] Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says people in the path of Hurricane Irene could be cut off from services for days after the storm passes.
"We do anticipate a significant amount of power outage," she said
[9:53 a.m. ET] Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley says residents who ignore mandatory evacuation orders could be forcibly removed by police if the officers deem their presence a threat to public welfare.
"It is the height of selfishness not to evacuate," he told CNN.
[9:48 a.m. ET] In Hyde County, North Carolina, a caravan of school buses left Friday morning carrying evacuees, under a mandatory evacuation order, to shelters as far away as Raleigh, 140 miles away. Many of those evacuating were Hispanic employees of Charles Carawan's seafood packaging business.
But Carawan and his family weren't among those planning to leave.
The 66-year-old owner of Mattamuskeet Seafood, his wife and son plan to ride out the storm along with about $500,000 worth of frozen crab they hope to keep frozen with a rented generator.
"I have nowhere else to go," Carawan said.
[9:26 a.m. ET] Thirty-eight Navy ships have gone out to sea because of Hurricane Irene, a U.S. Navy official told CNN on Friday.
[9:01 a.m. ET] President Barack Obama will deliver a statement on Hurricane Irene at 1130 a.m. this morning from his vacation home in Martha's Vineyard.
[8:52 a.m. ET] Casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, are expected to shut down for only the third time in their history as Hurricane Irene approaches, the Press of Atlantic City reports.
"We are counting all the money and putting it in the bank and taking the chips off the tables," Dennis Gomes, chief executive officer of Resorts Casino Hotel, was quoted as saying.
The casino closure is necessary as Atlantic County ordered a mandatory evacuation order for all areas east of U.S. Route 9 through the county, which includes the barrier islands.
Previous casino shutdowns were from Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and in 2006 when state gaming inspectors were off the job for three days, the Press reported.
[8:39 a.m. ET] Insurers could be footing a massive bill from Hurricane Irene, CNNMoney reports.
Shares of Allstate, MetLife and the Travelers Companies Inc. fell 3% Thursday in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, which was heading for a long swath of coastline from North Carolina to New York.
Insurers have had a bad year, stemming from destructive storms that swept through the Midwest and Southern states in the spring.
Insured losses could total $13.9 billion, according to a Bloomberg report.
[8:06 a.m. ET] Tropical storm conditions are expected to hit the North Carolina coast in the late morning to early afternoon, says Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center.
Read says that will just be the beginning of a weekend of dangerous weather for the East Coast, as Hurricane Irene brings high winds, heavy rain and dangerous surf to areas from North Carolina northward to Maine.
“It will not be safe at the beaches anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard this weekend,” said.
Inland areas can expect problems, too.
"Very heavy rain on saturated soil will lead to flash flooding," Read said.
[8:00 a.m. ET] Hurricane Irene remains a high-level Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, the National Hurricane Center says.
[7:34 a.m. ET] Ferry evacuations from barrier islands in North Carolina are nearly complete, Gov. Beverly Perdue said Friday morning.
"We're praying for the best and preparing for the worst," Perdue told CNN.
See the latest state-by-state updates on Hurricane Irene.
[7:30 a.m. ET] Hurricane Irene could hit New Jersey during the weekend with the strength of a Category 2 storm. The Newark Star-Ledger reports that while tropical storms are common in the state, it has only been hit by two tropical systems at hurricane strength, in 1903 and 1821.
[7:20 a.m. ET] A mandatory evacuation of barrier islands in Cape May County, New Jersey, has been ordered beginning at 8 a.m. Friday.
Cape May County Emergency Management Director Frank McCall said as many as 760,00 people including residents and vacationers could be in the county, according to a report from the Cape May County Herald.
[6:26 a.m. ET] New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority says a partial or full shut down of transit services in the New York City area may be necessary as Hurricane Irene approaches.
According to the New York Daily News, the authority would begin to stop services 12 hours before the storm makes landfall. A shutdown would follow a 10- to 12-hour evacuation period that would take place during daylight, the Daily News reports.
[6:05 a.m. ET] Eight people were injured in Boynton Beach, Florida, on Thursday when a wave estimated at nine feet high swept them off a jetty, CNN affiliate WPTV-TV reports.
"It's not really describable, it was like a wall of water. It took me, put me down, and pushed me up against the other rail and I was pretty much pinned there until the water went back out," victim Spencer Kinard told WPTV.
The eight suffered injuries including broken bones, cuts and bruises, according to the WPTV report.
[5:58 a.m. ET] Hurricane Irene could bring a storm surge of six to 11 feet above normal levels along the North Carolina coast, the National Hurricance Center warns in its 5 a.m. update.
Surge could be four to eight feet in Chesapeake Bay and three to six feet on the New Jersey shore, the hurricane center says.
High, dangerous waves will ride atop the storm surge.
[5:51 a.m. ET] The temporary home of a top tourist attraction in Nassau, Bahamas, was destroyed by Hurricane Irene, the Palm Beach Post reports.
A large tent that has been the home of the city's straw market, a maze of vendors selling woven baskets, beaded necklaces and other souvenirs, was blown apart by Irene's winds, the paper reports.
The market has been in the tent since 2001 after its original location was destroyed by fire.
[5:36 a.m. ET] Hurricane Irene is bringing up memories of Hurricane Isabel from September 2003 for people on North Carolina's Outer Banks, CNN affiliate WRAL-TV reports.
Isabel made landfall between Ocracoke and Cape Lookout as a Category 2 storm with a storm surge of six to eight feet, WRAL reported.
Isabel carved a new inlet out of Hatteras Island.
"It looked like a bomb had hit Hatteras Island. It was a total wipe-out of Hatteras Village," WRAL quoted tackle shop owner Stephen Hissy as saying.
[5:15 a.m. ET] Hurricane Irene weakened slightly in the National Hurricane Center's 5 a.m. update. The storm is now a Category 2 hurricane as its winds fell to 110 mph, just below the 111 mph threshold for a Category 3 storm.
Hurricane watches and warnings have been extended up the East Coast.