New York City officials issued what they called an unprecedented order on Friday for the evacuation of about 370,000 residents of low-lying areas at the city’s edges — from the expensive apartments in Battery Park City to the roller coaster in Coney Island to the dilapidated boardwalk in the Rockaways — warning that Hurricane Irene was such a threat that people living there simply had to get out.
Officials made what they said was another first-of-its-kind decision, announcing plans to shut down the city’s entire transit system Saturday — all 468 subway stations and 840 miles of tracks, and the rest of the nation’s largest mass transit network: thousands of buses in the city, as well as the buses and commuter trains that reach from Midtown Manhattan to the suburbs.
Underscoring what Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other officials said was the seriousness of the threat, President Obama approved a request from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to declare a federal emergency in the state while the hurricane was still several hundred miles away, churning toward the Carolinas. The city was part of a hurricane warning that took in hundreds of miles of coastline, from Sandy Hook, N.J., to Sagamore Beach, Mass.
The hurricane, 290 miles of fury dancing angrily across the Atlantic Ocean toward the coast, was actually advancing more slowly than most late-summer storms, the National Weather Service said. It said that by doing a minuet instead of a faster step, the storm would prolong the pounding it delivered to coastal areas when it reached them.
A Weather Service forecast Friday night said rain associated with the storm would begin in Manhattan after 11 a.m. Saturday with conditions worsening into Sunday.
“You only have to look at the weather maps to understand how big this storm is and how unique it is,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference on Friday at City Hall, “and it’s heading basically for us.”
The increasingly ominous announcements from officials — and the wall-to-wall coverage — sent New Yorkers hurrying to buy staples like canned food and candles. “Is this the apocalypse supply line?” a man asked as he stood in a line that stretched outside a hardware store on First Avenue, waiting to buy batteries.
Shoppers in places found that the shelves had been cleaned out. In shore towns in New Jersey and on Long Island, vacationers waited in lines at gas stations and watched as bulldozers built berms on low-lying beach roads.
In Point Lookout on Long Island, as in Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey, homeowners covered windows with plywood, and boaters struggled to get their vessels away from docks. There were lines at the ramps at marinas as boats were pulled from the water and hitched on trailers, one at a time.
In the city — from high rises in Manhattan to smaller buildings in Queens and Brooklyn — apartment dwellers with balconies and terraces hauled in their patio furniture and their potted plants. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York field office, with more than 1,000 agents in two buildings in Lower Manhattan, told employees by e-mail that they should put files in drawers for the weekend rather than leave them lying on their desks, apparently out of concern that paperwork would go flying if the storm broke the windows.
The announcement about the transit shutdown and the evacuation of what the city called Zone A low-lying areas prompted a cascade of cancellations for Saturday and Sunday: Broadway shows, the Mets’ games against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field, the performances by the Dave Matthews Band on Governors Island and the outdoor showing of opera movies at Lincoln Center, among others. Even the New York Aquarium and the Bronx, Central Park and Prospect Park Zoos closed for the weekend.
Starting at noon Saturday, all three major airports in the New York region will be closed to arriving flights. They will remain open for departures, pending changes in the weather, but most of those scheduled departures have already been canceled, according to Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman.
Some Atlantic City casinos made plans to stop rolling the dice and turn off the slot machines by 8 p.m. Friday. The naval submarine base in Groton, Conn., sent four submarines out to ride out the storm deep in the Atlantic Ocean.
And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said that all lanes of a 28-mile stretch of Route 72 in Ocean County would go in only one direction — westward — beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday to help speed the trip away from Long Beach Island, which is connected to the mainland by only a single bridge. He said he was also considering reversing traffic on part of the Garden State Parkway to help get drivers away from the shore.
But some beachgoers were staying. Some were surfers who wanted to catch a last wave. Mr. Christie, for his part, sounded annoyed that they had not followed his instructions when he said at a late-afternoon briefing that he had seen television coverage of “people sitting on the beach in Asbury Park.”
“Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out — you’re done,” he said. “You’ve maximized your tan. Get off the beach. Get in your cars, and get out of those areas. You know, it amazes me that you have responsible elected officials from North Carolina north through Massachusetts, along with National Weather Service folks, telling you this is going to be an enormous storm and something for New Jersey that we haven’t seen in over 60 years. Do not waste any more time working on your tan.”
Mayor Bloomberg said no one would be fined for violating the city’s evacuation orders. “Nobody’s going to go to jail,” he said, but he warned that the storm’s consequences could be fatal.
The number of people covered by the evacuation order was provided late Friday by Christopher Gilbride, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management. An estimate of 250,000 had earlier been cited by the city.
Officials said the subway shutdown was prompted mainly by wind estimates that suggested the hurricane could rock subway cars in places where they run above ground. The commuter rail lines that serve Long Island, Westchester County and Connecticut will also be shut down, as will New Jersey Transit operations. New Jersey Transit will suspend train service at noon Saturday and will stop bus service six hours later.
Mr. Cuomo said tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and on two other bridges in low-lying Brooklyn leading to the Rockaways would be suspended to help speed the evacuation. He also said that a half-dozen bridges — including the George Washington, the Robert F. Kennedy (formerly the Triborough), the Throgs Neck and the Whitestone — would be closed if winds reached 60 miles an hour for more than a short time.
Officials decided to go ahead with the Zone A evacuations, which they had first mentioned as a possibility on Thursday, because, Mr. Bloomberg said, “Irene is now bearing down on us at a faster speed than it was.” As he stepped up the plans on Friday, the city was already evacuating hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying areas. State officials continued arrangements for coordinating emergency services and restoring electricity if the storm does the kind of damage many fear.
Mr. Bloomberg said that 91 evacuation centers and shelters opened on Friday for people who could not stay in their homes. The Nassau County executive, Edward P. Mangano, said 20 shelters would be open by the time the storm hit.
Mr. Bloomberg had said Thursday that the city was ordering nursing homes and hospitals in those areas to evacuate residents and patients beginning at 8 a.m. Friday unless they received special permission from state and city health officials.
The city ordered construction work halted until 7 a.m. Monday. With the worst of the storm expected over the weekend, when relatively few construction crews would normally be on the job, the Buildings Department said Friday that its inspectors were checking construction sites to see that equipment had been secured. It said it would check over the weekend that builders complied with the no-work order.
In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said officials were preparing for “tremendous tree damage” and the loss of electricity across the entire state.
Consolidated Edison warned that it would have to cut off power to some customers if underground pipes and cables became submerged in water. To be ready for repairs, Con Ed said it was bringing in 800 additional workers from as far away as Texas.
In some Zone A areas, residents seemed unsure what to do: Evacuate or not? But some had their backpacks on and their suitcases-on-wheels rolling.
“I’m getting out of here,” said Mila Downes, 25, of England, who was visiting her sister. “I expected some excitement in New York City, but not an earthquake and a hurricane on the same week.”