Will Hurricane Irene cancel Martin Luther King memorial ceremony?
The National Hurricane Center's latest projection for Hurricane Irene shows the eye of the storm hitting the Washington, D.C., area at about 8 a.m. Sunday. That's just hours before crowds are scheduled to descend on the National Mall for the formal dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. President Obama is among those scheduled to speak.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, no decision had been made about Sunday's planned ceremony.
"We are monitoring the situation and we have from the beginning," Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service, told The Times. "The real bottom line is 'No decision has been made.' There’s been a huge amount of drama that has been injected here. Wiser heads and cooler heads need to prevail."
Asked what he was referring to, Line said, "You! Reporters! Your colleagues! Your brethren!" He said he had been deluged with phone calls from the media asking about cancellations, contingency plans and more. He stressed that no decision has been made and directed all other questions to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation, which is hosting the ceremony. A phone call and an email to the foundation were not returned in time for this report.
According to the foundation's website, the official dedication is slated to begin on Sunday -- the 48th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and King's historic "I Have A Dream" speech -- with a pre-dedication concert at 10 a.m. The dedication ceremony, which includes Obama's comments, is set for 11. That will be followed by a post-dedication concert at 2 p.m.
The hurricane center has urged residents up and down the East Coast to keep close tabs on Irene as the storm makes its way toward the U.S. because many factors will determine its ultimate path.
Just Monday the path of the storm appeared to be headed straight for South Florida. More recent predications are that it will sidestep much of Florida and reach landfall closer to the Carolinas.
The most accurate projections are about 24 to 48 hours out, according to Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. As a result, forecasters can't yet speak with a high degree of accuracy about Hurricane Irene's strength five days from now, he told the Times.
It is currently a Category 2 storm but is expected to swell into a Category 3 storm by Wednesday with winds exceeding 110 miles per hour and possibly become a Category 4 storm -- a "major hurricane" -- by the time it makes landfall on the East Coast later this week.
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Photo: The new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. Credit: Michael Reynolds / European Pressphoto Agency