High winds and rain from the approaching Hurricane Irene pose serious threats to unguarded residents, so officials are gearing up to respond and warning people to avoid danger.
The hurricane claimed at least five lives — in a car accident, by heart attack and by falling trees — since reaching land Saturday in North Carolina.
President Obama, who paid an unannounced visit today to the Federal Emergency Management Administration headquarters in Washington, declared a state of emergency in nine states, as government officials and residents dealt with or prepared for major power outages, flooding and wind-driven damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Officials at the Union County Office of Emergency Management declared a state of emergency prohibiting all non-emergency travel after 8 p.m. Saturday, as residents gird for the oncoming storm.
Councilman Fernando Gonzalez of Perth Amboy said the city declared a similar state of emergency at 1 p.m. in preparation for Hurricane Irene and its potential impact.
The declarations allow officials to take measures to maintain public safety, respond to calls, and protect residents and property during Hurricane Irene, which is expected to bring wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour or more during its peak early Sunday morning.
Gov. Chris Christie told reporters at State Police headquarters that more than a million people have left the Jersey Shore area within the last 24 hours.
“We are urging residents to remain at home, and stay off the roads now and through any recovery phase until the travel ban is lifted,” said Union County Public Safety Director Andrew Moran.
The City of Rahway also declared a municipal state of emergency, and the Township of Cranford has instituted a mandatory evacuation of flood-prone areas.
Union County Office of Emergency Management officials are watching conditions from the emergency operations center in Westfield and coordinating with municipal, state and federal officials.
Residents are urged to remain alert and informed through their local news stations, and can go to www.ucnj.org for safety tips and any County emergency news during the storm.
Residents may stay informed through the Union County First Alert emergency notification system by signing up for instant notifications at www.ucfirstalert.org or by checking state reports online at www.ready.nj.gov
The National Weather Service said tropical storm and hurricane conditions are expected with heavy rain and isolated thunderstorms in the morning. Humidity will be high with temperatures in the upper 70s will be accompanied by northeast winds 55 to 70 mph with gusts up to 80 mph.
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