NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Irene knocked out power to 2 million homes and businesses, disrupted oil refineries and forced nuclear plants to reduce power as it barreled toward New York City early on Sunday.
The Southeast reported more power losses even as the hurricane spun northward and blackouts in Delaware, New Jersey and New York jumped.
About 32,000 customers faced outages in New York City, but Consolidated Edison warned that downtown Manhattan, including Wall Street, could face further blackouts as low lying areas flooded.
Local forecasters said the path of Irene was shifting westward, raising the prospect of 10-foot storm surges.
"We're monitoring the storm and we've reached out to the customers in the affected area, but it won't be decided until we've seen the size of the storm surge and how it might affect our systems," a ConEd spokeswoman said. She added that by cutting the power before a surge it can lessen the time required to restart services.
Several East Coast refineries were forced to cut back on runs, while ConocoPhillips shut its Bayway plant in New Jersey. Other refiners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey throttled back on throughput or prepared for the full impact of the storm.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Philadelphia, an oil hub, and restricted some vessel traffic at the larger hub of New York Harbor, which stayed open.
Power generator Exelon idled the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in Ocean County, New Jersey, as a precaution. The plant supplies up to 600,000 homes.
The shutdown is expected to be short and other power supply may be available in the region, a company spokesman said.
Irene earlier cut power to large swaths of Virginia and North Carolina as it came ashore, prompting Brunswick nuclear power plant in Southport, North Carolina to reduce power generation.
(Reporting by Selam Gebrekidan, Jeanine Prezioso, Joshua Schneyer, Janet McGurty, David Sheppard, and Matthew Robinson; Writing by Matthew Robinson; editing by Christopher Wilson)