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NAGS HEAD, N.C.  — 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. New York City emptied its streets and subways and waited with an eerie quiet.

With most of its 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. While it was too early to assess the full threat, Irene was blamed for eight deaths.

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.

The deaths included two children, an 11-year-old boy in Virginia killed when a tree crashed through his roof and a North Carolina child who died in a crash at an intersection where traffic lights were ou

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