NEW: Irene hits land in New Jersey

NEW YORK (AP) -- Barely a hurricane but massive and packed with rain, Irene lumbered onto the New Jersey shore Sunday morning on its way toward pummeling New York, which turned eerily quiet as the city hunkered down.

The National Hurricane Center said the center of the huge storm reached land near Little Egg Inlet, about 85 miles south-southwest of New York, at 5:35 a.m. The eye previously reached land Saturday in North Carolina before returning to the Atlantic, straddling the East Coast as it flooded towns, killed at least eight people and knocked out power to more than 3 million homes and businesses.

Broadway, baseball and most other things were shuttered in New York, where the transit system stopped because of weather for the first time in history. Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned late Saturday that no matter whether residents of low-lying areas heeded his calls to evacuate, "The time for evacuation is over. Everyone should now go inside and stay inside."

Hours before the storm's center was to reach New York, a 58 mph wind gust hit John F. Kennedy International Airport and a storm surge of more than 3.5 feet was reported in New York Harbor.

National Weather Service meteorologist Ashley Sears said a storm surge of 4 to 8 feet was expected to rush in just before the eye crosses land. Wind and rain should start diminishing by midafternoon, but if the storm surge deluges Lower Manhattan, the water could linger for hours or even a day.

By Sunday morning, the storm had sustained winds of 75 mph, down from 100 mph on Friday. That's just 1 mph more than the 74 mph minimum for a Category 1 hurricane, the least threatening on a 1-to-5 scale.

The total extent of damage Saturday was unclear, but officials and residents in some areas were relieved to find their communities with relatively minor problems. Forecasters said the storm remained capable of causing ruinous flooding with a combination of storm surge, high tides and 6 to 12 inches of rain.

"Everything is still in effect," National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. "The last thing people should do is go outside. They need to get inside and stay in a safe place until this thing is over."

Tornadoes were reported in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, and several warnings were issued elsewhere, including New York and Philadelphia.


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