Weaker but still menacing, Hurricane Irene knocked out power and piers in North Carolina, clobbered Virginia with wind and churned up the coast Saturday to confront cities more accustomed to snowstorms than tropical storms.
With most transportation machinery shut down, the Eastern Seaboard spent the day nervously watching the storm's march across a swath of the nation inhabited by 65 million people. The hurricane had an enormous wingspan - 500 miles, its outer reaches stretching from the Carolinas to Cape Cod - and packed wind gusts of 115 mph.
Almost a million homes and businesses were without power.
The hurricane stirred up 7-foot waves, and forecasters warned of storm-surge danger on the coasts of Virginia and Delaware, along the Jersey Shore and in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound. In the Northeast, drenched by rain this summer, the ground is already saturated, raising the risk of flooding.
After the Outer Banks, the storm strafed Virginia with rain and strong wind. It covered the Hampton Roads region, which is thick with inlets and rivers and floods easily, and chugged north toward Chesapeake Bay. Shaped like a massive inverted comma, the storm had a thick northern flank that covered all of Delaware, almost all of Maryland and the eastern half of Virginia.
It was the first hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States since 2008 and came almost six years to the day after Katrina ravaged New Orleans.
At least 2.3 million were under orders to move to somewhere safer, although it was unclear how many obeyed or, in some cases, how they could.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told 6,500 troops from all branches of the military to get ready to pitch in on relief work, and President Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's command center in Washington and offered moral support.
"It's going to be a long 72 hours," he said, "and obviously a lot of families are going to be affected."
In New York, the Giants and Jets postponed their preseason NFL game, the Mets postponed two baseball games, and Broadway theaters were dark.
For all the concern, there were early signs that the storm might not be as bad as feared. Some forecasts had it making landfall as a Category 3 storm and perhaps reaching New York as a Category 2.
"Isabel got 10 inches from coming in the house, and this one ain't no Isabel," said Chuck Owen of Poquoson, Va., who has never abandoned his house to heed an evacuation order. He was referring to Hurricane Isabel, which chugged through in 2003.
Still, Owen put his pickup truck on a small pyramid of cinder blocks to protect it from the storm tide, which had already begun surging through the saltwater marshes that stand between Poquoson and Chesapeake Bay.
Power losses were heavily concentrated in Virginia and North Carolina.
Irene roared across the Caribbean earlier this week, offering a devastating preview for the United States: power outages, dangerous floods and high winds.