Hurricane Irene: Get ready for blackouts -- and more
Extended blackouts can stop the water supply, shut down gas stations and slow recovery efforts.
The American Red Cross is positioning food and volunteers to serve 250,000 meals a day and could serve up to 1 million meals a day, if necessary, said American Red Cross President Gail McGovern during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday.
The effects of the hurricane will reach a “huge geographic area with lots of people,” said McGovern, who is coordinating a large network of organizations with more than 60,000 volunteers standing by to assist residents hit by the storm.
"This could take weeks, even months to respond to," McGovern said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has positioned industrial generators, medical supplies and other emergency equipment at military bases in North Carolina, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
The storm is nearly 200 miles wide as it approaches the coast of North Carolina and even if the power of the hurricane dissipates, tropical storm force winds are "very likely" to be felt as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island, said National Hurricane Director Bill Read.
"Power will go out over large areas," said FEMA administrator Craig Fugate.
View Hurricane Irene track forecast in a larger map
Federal officials have warned low-lying communities along the coast and also farther upstream along rivers like the Potomac that there is the potential for storm surge and flooding.
Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano spoke with mayors and governors in the storm's path on Friday to discuss what help is needed.
Napolitano encouraged the public not to focus too much on the storm ratings and exact wind speeds. Even if the storm is downgraded to a Category 2 or a tropical storm, the high winds and rain can still cause significant damage, down waterlogged trees and cause widespread blackouts, Napolitano said.
Storm prediction is "a bit of science and a little bit of art," Napolitano said. "If you are in the storm path, you won’t be able to tell much difference."
-- Brian Bennett in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Lowe's employee David Griffin, left, helps to load a generator and bottled water for a customer as residents prepare for the landfall of Hurricane Irene in Morehead City, N.C., on Friday. Credit: Steve Nesius / Reuters