Obama visits FEMA, readies response
Determined to avoid any comparisons with the federal government's failed response to Hurricane Katrina, the Obama administration made a public display Saturday of the range of its efforts to make sure officials in storm-drenched states had whatever help they needed from Washington.
WASHINGTON — Determined to avoid any comparisons with the federal government's failed response to Hurricane Katrina, the Obama administration made a public display Saturday of the range of its efforts to make sure officials in storm-drenched states had whatever help they needed from Washington.
President Obama, who returned to Washington a day early from his summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., visited the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
While there, he checked in on the National Response Coordination Center, a 24-hour command center that will help orchestrate the response to Hurricane Irene.
Before the storm made landfall, Obama had declared a federal emergency for Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia, clearing the way for federal financing and support to respond to the hurricane.
While still at FEMA headquarters, Obama joined a video conference of state and local officials in the regions expecting to be hit by the storm.
"It's going to be a long 72 hours," Obama said during the conference.
As for FEMA, still seeking to redeem itself from its spotty performance after Katrina in 2005, it had 18 disaster-response teams in place along the East Coast, with stockpiles of food, water and mobile communications equipment ready to go.
The Coast Guard had more than 20 rescue helicopters and reconnaissance planes ready to take off.
The Defense Department had 6,500 active-duty military personnel poised for deployment. The National Guard had about 101,000 members available to respond.
And the American Red Cross had more than 200 emergency-response vehicles and tens of thousands of ready-to-eat meals in areas due to be hit by the storm.
Astronauts' photos show size of storm
Perhaps the most breathtaking images of Hurricane Irene came from some 200 miles up, via the international space station. Photographs taken by astronauts showed what looked like a massive swirl of mashed potatoes straddling the edge of the green plate of the United States.
"If you were to just put it on a map of the United States, it would go from South Florida to Pennsylvania, and from North Carolina to eastern Oklahoma," said Brian McNoldy, a research associate of the Department of Atmospheric Research at Colorado State University.
Seniors stay put in Atlantic City
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said authorities would make a "last-ditch effort" to evacuate about 600 senior citizens who live in Atlantic City high-rises and were refusing to leave as Hurricane Irene headed toward the coastal city.
Atlantic City is under a mandatory evacuation order, but Christie acknowledged that if residents decline to heed the order, he cannot force them.
Speaking on television and addressing his remarks to the reluctant residents Saturday afternoon, Christie said: "You're correct that I cannot make you leave your home ... But if you stay where you are, you're putting yourself in danger as well as your loved ones."
Surf may be way up for competition
In an odd bit of timing, the world's greatest professional surfers are headed to Long Beach, N.Y., for the Quiksilver Pro New York Surf Competition, scheduled to start Thursday.
Not even a hurricane, it seems, was going to stop the two-week competition in the city 50 minutes by train from Manhattan. The first such competition to be held in New York is offering a record $1 million purse to competitors.
If Irene cooperates, the contest could be an economic boon. Lisa Mulligan, Long Beach's deputy city manager, estimated the tournament could generate $10 million to $15 million for the local economy, counting visits to restaurants, hotel stays, sales tax and other revenue.
Tournament organizers also are reimbursing the city for approximately $250,000 in costs for staging the event, another city official said.
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