If Irene hits the south-facing CT, RI, MA, or Long Island coasts, the northeast quadrant will be the most dangerous because that’s where the wind and waves are moving in the same direction. This is where the tern Nor’easter comes from. (While Irene is a hurricane not a Nor’easter, the concept is the same.)
And there will always be some fool standing on breakers at the beach watching the hurricane make land. Such folks often remove themselves from the gene pool. Walking is difficult when the the wind is 60 mph, it is mostly impossible above 70 mph.
I grew up in CT and have been through several hurricanes. They are not to be trifled with. Looking at the map, it appears DC could take a direct hit.