US President Barack Obama on Saturday personally led his government’s response to Hurricane Irene, marshalling top officials and visiting a disaster command centre as the storm roared ashore.
Obama greeted officials at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) set up at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (Fema) headquarters in Washington, and then held a video conference with federal and state officials.
Hurricane Irene made landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, on Saturday as a weaker but still category one storm, US government forecasters said.
As its storm’s eye came ashore, there were sustained winds of 85 miles an hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
President Obama said the storm could be extremely dangerous and costly for a nation that recalls the destruction in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans, killing up to 1,800 people and causing $80 billion in damage.
Trees were uprooted, highways closed and streets flooded, as powerful winds and heavy rain battered the coast.
Cities along the eastern coast of the United States braced for the impact, with hundreds of thousands of people ordered to evacuate low-lying areas.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the military stood ready to help, with more than 100,000 National Guard forces available.
The densely populated corridor, home to more than 65 million people, was under a serious threat of flooding, storm surges as well as power outages that could cost up to $12 billion in damages according to experts.
There were reports of at least three deaths in North Carolina.
“This is going to be a serious storm, no matter what the track is, no matter how much it weakens,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg asserted.
Bloomberg has ordered an unprecedented mass evacuation with the rare closure of the city’s extensive subway system.
Airlines also cancelled nearly 7,000 flights over the weekend and all three New York area airports were close to incoming flights at noon on Saturday.
According to New York state officials, major links into the city would be cut if winds exceeded 60 miles per hour.
Authorities have also called up 900 National Guard troops and 2,500 power workers to prepare for emergency repair work, the largest ever deployment.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.