The US East Coast braced on Saturday to take a direct hit from Hurricane Henri as it threatened to pound the region with fierce winds and heavy rains that could cause "life-threatening" storm surge and flooding, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
As of Saturday afternoon, the storm was gathering strength, packing 75 mph (120 kph) winds while it moved north about 180 miles east of North Carolina. On its current track, Henri was expected to make landfall in Long Island, New York or southern New England on Sunday evening, the center said in an advisory.
More than 42 million people in the region were under a hurricane or tropical storm warning on Saturday, the NHC said.
Parts of Long Island, New York, and New Haven, Connecticut, were under hurricane and storm surge warnings. Other parts of New England, such as Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, were under surge and tropical storm watches and warnings.
"This is a life-threatening situation. Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions," the NHC said.
New York City, the largest city in the US, was under a tropical storm warning. Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents in a Twitter post to stay home on Sunday and to use public transportation if they need to travel.
Emergency management officials said heavy rainfall and damaging winds could flood roadways and reduce visibility throughout the weekend.
"Secure outdoor objects and make sure you are in a safe location before the onset of wind and rain!," New York City Emergency Management Commissioner John Scrivani wrote in an Tweet on Saturday.
The center warned Henri could produce storm surges of 3 to 5 feet along the coast in New England, 75 mph or higher wind gusts and rains of 3 to 6 inches with 10 inches in isolated areas.
Shelves stripped bare
In the tiny Hampton hamlet of Amagansett, New York, home to Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin and Gwyneth Paltrow, normally well-heeled residents packed supermarkets, hardware and liquor stores early Saturday morning.
At the IGA supermarket, shelves were stripped bare of toilet paper, paper towels and other supplies. Motorists waited in long lines at gas stations while stores ran out of flashlights.
Some of the most patient shoppers stood in a long line at the Balsam Farm Stand, which was packed with anxious shoppers filling bags with heirloom tomatoes, organic zucchinis, $9 free range eggs and hand-crafted mozzarella.
Michael Cinque, the owner of the Amagansett Wine & Spirit, deliberated whether to board up the windows of his store as shoppers streamed in and then out with bottles of tequila, vodka and other expensive liquors.
"You always have to be prepared," said Cinque, who has owned the store for 42 years and also volunteers as an emergency responder. "You have to take it seriously."
In his back storeroom, he shifted pink wine boxes to get near a wooden board that listed all of the hurricanes and "big ones" that the liquor store had weathered, going back to the New England hurricane of September 1938.
The last entry listed on Cinque’s board was 1985, when six hurricanes made landfall in the United States, tying with 1886 and 2020 for the record.
Cinque remembers the town being hit hard back then by the series of storms. One of them was even called Henri.
Asked if he thought this Henri could cause as much damage, he said was preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
"This is a low lying area. It all depends on the timing. It’s a full moon and a high tide, so if it hits…" he said. "Roll up your pants."
In Newport, Rhode Island, a coastal yachting community of 25,000 people, sump pumps, flashlights and generators were also in high demand.
"They’re preparing from past experience," Newport Hardware sales associate Hank Lopes told the Newport Daily News. "In low-lying areas like around here, people’s basements will flood even during a little rainstorm, not to mention what might be headed this way."
Eversource, the largest electric utility company in Connecticut, warned residents to be prepared for power outages for up to five to 10 days.
"I do need to ask for patience," Eversource President and CEO Joe Nolan said during a news conference on Friday, calling Henri a "very, very serious storm."
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont activated the National Guard in their states to help in possible rescue, debris clearing and public safety efforts.