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Massachusetts governor warns people off streets for Irene

By Zach Howard

CONWAY, Mass (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick warned on Saturday it would be unsafe for people to venture out on Sunday when extreme rain and winds from Hurricane Irene are expected to slam southern New England.

Irene roared ashore in North Carolina on Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of at least 85 miles an hour (140 km per hour), and a breadth of more than 520 miles. Forecasters and officials warned that it remained big and dangerous.

It could weaken to a tropical storm by the time it hits New England on Sunday, but the U.S. National Hurricane Center said that would make little difference in the impact from its damaging winds, flooding rains and dangerous storm surge of 8 feet for Long Island and metropolitan New York.

At least three hurricane-related deaths were reported in North Carolina from Irene on Saturday.

"This is not a time to panic, but it is a time to be prepared; we are well prepared and we are coordinating very closely," Patrick told reporters at a news conference at the state emergency management headquarters in Framingham.

"Everyone should stay off the roads and indoors, and that includes me, during the worst of the storm," Patrick said.

"During the day tomorrow, when the winds will be from 70 anywhere to over 90 miles per hour, it is unsafe for people to be outside," Patrick said.

President Barack Obama has approved a pre-landfall disaster declaration for Massachusetts, freeing up federal aid and resources and federal emergency officials were already in the state to coordinate efforts with local authorities, he said.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island declared a state of emergency on Friday. Vermont joined them on Saturday.

Some western and central Massachusetts households and businesses still are picking up the pieces from tornadoes that ripped through the area on June 1, killing three people and destroying sections of towns such as Springfield and Monson.

Patrick said he visited inland areas of the state on Friday to make sure communities struck by the twisters three months ago were ready for the hurricane later this weekend.

"I worry about the kind of psychological burden on folks who have just gone through the tornado in early June," Patrick said, adding that he was satisfied with the preparations he saw in some of the tornado-hit areas.

Massachusetts has set-up six emergency shelters on Cape Cod and nine throughout the rest of the state. It had also deployed about 2,500 National Guard troops by Saturday.

(Reporting by Zach Howard; Editing by David Bailey)

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