KILL DEVIL HILLS, North Carolina (CNN) -- North Carolina dealt with widespread power outages, flooding, and damage Saturday morning as Hurricane Irene continued its northward trek along the East Coast, with Norfolk, Virginia, and the Hampton Roads area next in its sights.
Irene made landfall about 7:30 a.m. Saturday near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center, bringing high winds, heavy rain and a flooding storm surge that cut off thousands of residents in Beaufort, Carteret and Pamlico counties, the state Emergency Management Agency reported.
About 550,000 power customers were without electricity in North Carolina and Virginia because of the storm Friday afternoon, according to state and utility reports.
The storm ripped off roofs and caused other damage to homes and businesses in Hyde and Jones counties, according to the agency. A tornado spawned Irene destroyed five homes and and seriously damaged a business in Tyrrell County, Sheriff Darryl Liverman told CNN affiliate WITN. Vance County authorities published photos of a home damaged when a tree fell on it and crashed through a bedroom ceiling. It was unclear if anyone was injured.
Every road in Jones County was blocked by downed trees, the state emergency management agency reported. Road crews across the state were trying to clear roads, but trees kept falling around them, the state transportation department said.
Irene also was blamed for a death Saturday morning, when a tree limb fell on a man feeding livestock, an emergency official in Nash County said. On Friday, a man suffered a heart attack as he put plywood over the windows of his home in Onslow County, the state emergency agency confirmed.
As of the last update at 11 a.m. ET Saturday, the storm was centered about 50 miles west of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, moving northward at 15 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm remained a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended as far as 90 miles from the center, the agency said.
While some were discounting the weakening storm, government officials were clearly concerned that people would dismiss warnings of potentially devastating flooding and ignore calls to evacuate or prepare.
"Some of our most devastating floods have occurred in tropical storms," FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said.
President Barack Obama continued to closely monitor the storm, according to White House officials. He toured FEMA's operations center Saturday morning. Meanwhile, defense officials told 6,500 service members to prepare to deploy to storm-ravaged regions should state officials need them.
The Red Cross sheltered 13,000 people in 150 shelters Friday night, President Gail McGovern said. More than two-third's of the non-profit's emergency response vehicles had deployed to the East Coast, she said.
"We're now in the middle of what could be one of the largest responses that the Red Cross operations has had in recent memory," she said.
In Virginia, where the U.S. Navy had sent much of its fleet to sea to avoid the storm's wrath, the state Department of Emergency Management said 180,000 electricity customers were already without power, adding that conditions were changing rapidly.
In Chesapeake, Virginia, iReporter Kathi Vanpeeren said Irene's winds at Virginia Beach were violent Saturday morning.
"I'm not panicked at this point, just kind of watchful and keeping an eye on what's going on outside," she said. "Everybody around me has pretty much prepared the best we can."
Communities further north also continued to prepare for Irene's arrival. Rainfall totals of 5 inches to 10 inches, with some isolated amounts of a foot, are possible, as are storm surges of up to 8 feet as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the weather service warned.
Airlines canceled thousands of flights and airports in Philadephia, Washington, New York at Boston all planned to suspend operations for at least some part of the weekend.
Emergency officials in Maryland closed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel until further notice, the state Emergency Management Agency reported.
Authorities in New York shut down the city's massive transit system at noon ET, and they continued to warn residents of low-lying areas to evacuate immediately. The city ordered an unprecedented evacuation of 370,000 residents on Friday.
"No matter what the track is, no matter how much it weakens, this is a life-threatening storm," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Saturday.
The storm slapped North Carolina overnight and into Saturday morning with thrashing winds that knocked down trees and power lines and left around 370,000 power customers in the dark, utility Progress Energy said. Storm surges of up to 9 feet occurred in coastal areas.
On Ocracoke Island, at the southern end of the Outer Banks, a couple of hundred residents riding out the storm lost power early Saturday morning. Their power lines are strung along poles mounted on the highest sand dunes.
"The power went off for good around 5 a.m.," said Clayton Gaskill, who had been trying to keep the island's tiny radio station, WOVV, running through the night. "We won't be back on the air until the storm goes by, because there's no shelter for the portable generators," he said in a text message to CNN.
A tornado touched down in Tyrrell County around 1 a.m., said Mark Van Sciver of the North Carolina Joint Information Center. Atlantic Beach avoided the full brunt of the storm. Still, walls of water roared onto land, flooding streets and parking lots.
A hotel facade ripped away and part of a pier fell into the ocean.
In New York, Bloomberg pleaded for residents once again Saturday to take Irene seriously.
He said low-lying coastal areas under serious threat included Coney Island and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Far Rockaway and Broad Channel in Queens, South Beach, Midland Beach, and other parts of Staten Island, Battery Park City in lower Manhattan, and sections of the Bronx.
"We have never done a mandatory evacuation before, and we wouldn't be doing this now if we didn't think the storm had the potential to be very serious."
The order meant five New York City hospitals had to evacuate patients.
Rilwan Akinola, a nurse at Peninsula Hospital in Queens, worked all night to evacuate patients to higher ground.
"Some of them ask why they're being moved and there is definitely some concern, but most of them know. They all have TVs in their rooms so they have been following what is going on," he said.
Akinola said all but a few patients were evacuated by Saturday morning. It was a new experience for the Nigerian native.
"I've never experienced a hurricane in my life, and I think people need to know what's going on in their country. Our hospital is in a very dangerous zone," he said.