Just as Hurricane Irene began to make itself known to New Haven through increasingly heavy rains, city officials briefed reporters and residents about the city’s progress in preparing for the storm and evacuating residents.

At an 8 p.m. press conference at Nathan Hale School on Townsend Avenue, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. — who had issued a mandatory evacuation order for the city’s low-lying Morris Cove neighborhood just five hours earlier — warned residents that “Irene is coming.” The city will have 210 public safety personnel on duty tonight, compared to the typical 120, he said.

Flooding will affect Union Station and several neighborhoods throughout the city, including West River, Long Wharf and City Point, he said. Expecting several trees to fall down throughout the city, he said, he has already issued orders to prepare for an extensive cleanup operation. The city’s legal and economic development staffs are preparing to assist businesses with insurance claims in the event of serious property damage.

DeStefano urged all residents to take unsecured items indoors before winds, which could reach 75 m.p.h., can turn them into dangerous projectiles.

“All the things you have in your yard right now will become missiles later tonight,” he said.

People should simply use their common sense, State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said at the press conference, adding that the combination of a high tide and Irene’s landfall could produce New Haven’s worst storm conditions and flooding in over 70 years.

Public safety officials were on hand in the Nathan Hale cafeteria to discuss the city’s preparedness for the storm, which is expected to hit New Haven late tomorrow morning.

The city’s police department will be capable of keeping the entire city safe, said Chief Frank Limon.

Assistant fire chief Patrick Redding said the fire department has been engaged for several hours in a “direct contact” effort to inform Morris Cove residents that it is in their best interest to evacuate. Roughly 40 percent of the 466 households ordered to evacuate this afternoon have done so, and less than half of those who remain plan to do so.

Still, DeStefano said he is pleased with the cooperation of city residents in taking precautions for the storm — “they’re taking it seriously,” he said.

273 households in the mandatory evacuation zones have been contacted as of now, DeStefano said.