Hurricane Irene: 'This is not just a coastal event,' authorities warn
Hurricane Irene is not just a concern for residents who live near the Atlantic Ocean: The storm's girth and ferocity could actually be deadlier -- and do plenty of damage -- far inland.
Much of the attention and preparation efforts have been focused along the coastline. But the storm could dump as much as 5, or even 10, inches of rain in the inland Northeast, a region that has already been saturated by a series of rains. That could lead to upended trees, downed power lines and widespread flooding -- especially when coupled with damaging winds. All are potentially deadly hazards, particularly for someone caught unexpectedly outdoors or trapped in a car by rising waters.
"This is not just a coastal event," Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate said Friday morning. "We’re going to have a coastal issue as well as an inland issue."
The upshot for millions of East Coast residents in the path of Hurricane Irene: Get yourself to safety before the storm hits, and then stay inside until it blows over.
Fugate spoke during a joint media conference call that included U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read, and American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern. They outlined the launch of their preparation plans to "toe-to-toe" with Mother Nature as McGovern put it, or, as the media put it, stave off the Northeast's version of Hurricane Katrina.
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Preparation plans have been sped along by several states' decisions to declare a state of emergency and the embedding FEMA workers and emergency supplies up and down the coast. For its part, the Red Cross is already preparing to feed the hungry and displaced; it has the potential to serve a million meals a day if necessary and oversee 15,000 shelter sites.
There are some signs that the storm is weaking a bit, but authorities emphasized that it still on track to be damaging -- and potentially deadly. Those in the path of Hurricane Irene are urged to plan accordingly and evacuate if needed.
Fugate also stressed that electricity is likely to be an issue -- both in terms of the dangers of downed power lines but also the likelihood that some residents, especially those in rural areas, could find themselves without power for days if not a week or more. He said coastal residents are more accustomed to hurricane-grade storms and the accompanying preparation drill, but that inland residents might not believe that the storm will reach them.
"That’s why we are telling people not just along the coast but well inland to be prepared," he said.
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Photo: A front loader piles sand to protect a life guard station on Long Beach on Long Island, New York. Credit: Reuters / Mike Segar