WASHINGTON - Hurricane Irene struck US state of North Carolina Saturday morning with 85 mph winds, the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida, reported. The vast storm made landfall near Cape Lookout, N.C., and was moving north-northeast near 14 mph. Little change in strength was forecast and Irene was expected to retain Category 1 hurricane strength through Sunday. Hurricane-force winds extended outward 90 miles with tropical-storm-force winds extending out 260 miles. Mark Van Sciver of the North Carolina Joint Information Centre told CNN some 7,400 people had taken refuge in 81 shelters. Hurricane Centre Director Bill Read warned coastal sea levels could rise up to 8 feet above normal. As the storm's forward path was forecast, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued the first-ever mandatory evacuation order for low-lying areas; transit officials in New York and Philadelphia ordered a shutdown as of noon Saturday, and US President Barack Obama has cut short his summer vacation and returned to Washington. AFP/Reuters add: At least three people have died in North Carolina as Hurricane Irene battered the coast on Saturday with powerful winds, driving rain and surging floods, officials said. Obama Saturday personally led his government's response to Hurricane Irene, marshalling top officials and visiting a disaster command centre as the storm roared ashore. "You guys are doing a great job obviously," Obama told a group in the command centre. Trees were uprooted, highways closed and streets flooded, as powerful winds and heavy rain battered the coast and a local power company announced that 300,000 people were without electricity. Nearly 7,000 flights were also cancelled.