Hurricane Irene may cause power outages that last for “days or longer” on the U.S. East Coast and inland, along with flooding, high winds and downed trees, said Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate.
“It’s so important for people to prepare,” Fugate said at a news conference with emergency officials in Washington today. “People need to leave early" if local officials advise them to evacuate, he said. "Travel a safe distance. Get somewhere safe.”
FEMA has sent emergency teams to states along the coast and is coordinating with state and local officials. The American Red Cross deployed more than 200 emergency response vehicles to distribute buckets, mops, food and other supplies. The organization is prepared to serve 250,000 meals a day and can increase that to 1 million, said chief executive officer Gail McGovern.
President Barack Obama called on those in affected areas to heed evacuation instructions. He urged people to take the storm seriously.
“All indications point to this being an historic hurricane,” Obama said today in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. “If you’re in the way of this hurricane, you should be preparing now.”
FEMA has millions of meals and millions of liters of water ready to give out as well as cots, blankets and other supplies, Obama said.
Those in the storm’s path should gather emergency supplies, such as water, food, flashlights, appropriate clothing and important papers, officials said.
Irene, downgraded to a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, moved north at 14 miles (22 kilometers) per hour toward the coast of North Carolina, posing the largest threat to the U.S. Northeast since Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the risk of significant rain and flooding is great either way, regardless of the storm’s category.
“If you are in the storm’s path, you won’t be able to tell much difference,” she said at the Washington news conference.
Irene has maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 11 a.m. Miami time.
North Carolina Landfall
The center’s forecast track shows the storm will make landfall in North Carolina’s Outer Banks tomorrow, skirt the East Coast and reach New England on Aug. 28.
“There’s going to be a huge swath of 5 to 10 inches of rain through the densely populated Northeast corridor, where we’ve had almost 300 to 600 percent of normal rain in the last 30 days,” said National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read.
Already saturated ground increases the likelihood of downed trees and flash flooding, he said.
“This is not just a coastal event,” Read said.
Napolitano said the U.S. government has the resources it needs to respond, and Fugate said there is more than $900 million in the nation’s disaster relief fund.