Obama visits FEMA, predicts a 'long 72 hours' ahead
President Obama made an unannounced visit to the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Saturday afternoon, where he praised the federal government's response to Hurricane Irene after receiving briefings from governors and emergency managers.
"So what have we got here?" Obama asked as he entered the room where FEMA has been holding daily video conferences since Monday with state and local officials, the National Hurricane Center and other federal agencies.
As reporters shuffled into the room, a speaker on the teleconference from Vermont told the group that Canadian utility crews had been called in to help, as every river in the state is expected to flood.
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"Any additional items you need or any additional support from FEMA that you are still waiting on?" Obama asked.
"No. There isn't," the Vermont representative said.
Also on the call were representatives from the private sector, including big box retailers and telecommunications firms. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told the president that the agency had been working around the clock to prepare for the storm.
"We didn't start today," Fugate said. "We've been doing this now since early in the week."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that with the storm having made landfall, "we are just at really the end of the beginning."
Sitting at the center of a long conference table under a wall of television screens, Obama praised the response effort and encouraged the agency to keep up its work in the recovery effort.
"Each conversation I've had with state and local officials, they've confirmed to me that the relationship with FEMA has been outstanding," Obama said. "...They recognize this is going to be a tough slog getting through this thing. But they are very appreciative of the outstanding work that all of you have done, of the preparation that's taking place."
Obama said he hadn't heard from "anybody who's suggesting that we haven't done everything we can on this front." He said he was most concerned about flooding and power outages.
"It sounds like that's going to be an enormous strain on a lot of states," Obama said. "And that may take days, even longer in some cases."
"It's going to be a long 72 hours," he said. "And obviously a lot of families are going to be affected."
-- Kim Geiger in Washington
Photo: President Obama, second from right, receives an update on the status of Hurricane Irene as it moves up the Eastern Seaboard on Saturday at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press