New York City orders the evacuation of a quarter million people amid frenzied preparations for Hurricane Irene

·Senior National Affairs Reporter

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City ordered the mandatory evacuation of around 250,000 residents as ordinarily jaded New York City residents threw themselves into a frenzy of preparation for Hurricane Irene.

The National Weather Service issued a hurricane watch for the city and much of the surrounding region, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency. Torrential rains, flash floods, and winds of more than 100 mph are expected, beginning Saturday evening.

Irene itself is currently projected to hit the city on Sunday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane--meaning a major storm--but both the timing and the severity could change.

Because the city's hundreds of miles of coastline are densely developed, there is a potential for greater damage than there would be in less-developed areas of the southern United States, the city's emergency management agency said.

Among the developments:

• Mayor Bloomberg said all 250,000 New Yorkers living in low-lying areas--including neighborhoods like Coney Island in Brooklyn, the Rockaways in Queens, and Battery Park City in Manhattan, as well as many others--will be required to evacuate. This color-coded map (pdf), put out by the mayor's office, shows the areas that are affected.

• The city began evacuations Friday morning of 22 hospitals and nursing homes in low-lying areas, to be completed by 8 p.m. Friday.

• Emergency planning officials instructed residents to stock up on supplies, identify an alternative place to sleep in the event of an evacuation, and prepare a "go bag" of essentials.

• Gov. Cuomo announced a shutdown of all New York City subway trains and buses, as well as commuter trains to the suburbs, starting at noon Saturday, and perhaps lasting until Monday or beyond. "It's hard to predict when it will come back," MTA chairman Jay Walder said.

• Cuomo also said that major bridges into and out of Manhattan and the other boroughs would be closed if winds reach 60 mph, as seems likely.

• On the bright side, the city also said New Yorkers won't need to worry about feeding parking meters this weekend.

• Airlines, especially those at low-lying JFK International, have delayed some flights and prepared shuttle buses to take stranded travelers to hotels.

• Some city stores ran short of emergency necessities like batteries, flashlights and bottled water.

• More than 300 street fairs and other events requiring city permits -- including a concert on Governor's Island by the Dave Matthews Band -- were canceled, as was a certain Yahoo! News reporter's Saturday afternoon barbecue.

• Both St. John's and Columbia unversities said they were postponing the move-in date for new students to Monday from Sunday.