WikiLeaks: Judge recommends court-martial for Bradley Manning

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning
A military judge has recommended that Pfc. Bradley Manning face a general court-martial for allegedly disclosing hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic files and reports to WikiLeaks, the Army announced Thursday.  

Manning, 24, is charged with aiding the enemy, transmitting national defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, and more than 20 other criminal charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in a military prison.

Lt. Col. Paul Alamanza heard evidence against Manning during a weeklong Article 32 hearing, a military proceeding similar to a civilian grand jury, last month at Ft. Meade, Md. According to an Army statement, Alamanza concluded that “the charges and specifications are in the proper form and that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged.”

A more senior judge, Col. Carl R. Coffman, will now review Alamanza’s report and will decide whether to refer the case to a general court-martial.

The Army did not make the report public, but it was provided to Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, who could publish the report if he chooses.

Manning was a military intelligence analyst at a small base in Iraq and had a top-secret security clearance and access to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, which is used by parts of the U.S. government to transmit classified information.

He is the only person charged with unauthorized release of more than half a million classified U.S. military reports and diplomatic cables from around the globe, as well as a 2007 video of a deadly U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad, to the WikiLeaks website in May 2010.

Supporters see Manning as a whistle-blower who helped expose U.S. military misdeeds and energize protests against corrupt regimes. They argue that military prosecutors never produced evidence showing that the leaks harmed national security.

The materials were “improperly classified,” said Kevin Zeese, a legal adviser to the Bradley Manning Support Network.

“These charges contradict the administration’s own impact assessments which showed that these WikiLeaks revelations posed no threat to our national security,” Zeese said. “But since the Obama administration appears dead set on railroading Bradley Manning through their show trial, we can’t expect them to allow such critical evidence or testimony to be considered.”

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Photo:  Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted out of a courthouse in Ft. Meade, Md., in December. Credit: Patrick Semansky / Associated Press


FAA: Give airline pilots shorter shifts, longer rests

FAA fights pilot fatigue with new rules
Commercial airline pilots will be entitled to shorter shifts and longer rests under a new set of rules issued Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The new rules, described by the agency as a “sweeping” overhaul of the way commercial airline pilots’ shifts are scheduled, won’t take effect for two years.

They were sparked in part by the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407. The plane stalled and crashed over western New York, killing 50 people. Pilot error was determined to be the cause of the crash.

The rules update 1960s-era regulations to reflect the latest research on how fatigue and travel through time zones can affect performance.

“This is a major safety achievement,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue.”

The new rules limit to between nine and 14 hours the amount of time a pilot can be kept on duty without a rest.  Pilots will be allowed to fly a maximum of eight or nine hours at a time and they will be entitled to rest periods of at least 10 hours, up from eight hours under the old rules. Within the rest period, pilots must have the opportunity for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The FAA estimates that it will cost the industry $297 million to implement the new rules, but that the rules will save $247 million to $470 million. The rules apply only to commercial passenger carriers. Applying them to cargo operators would have been too costly, the FAA said.

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Photo: The Federal Aviation Administration has moved to fight fatigue among commercial pilots. In this file photo, planes sit on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: Kim Johnson / Associated Press


In Irene's wake: Relief despite damage and deaths

Central_Park_tree

As Hurricane Irene approached, spectacular satellite images encouraged some to fear the worst. But now, as the weakened storm moseys from New York into New England, you can't see a sigh of relief from outer space.

But that was the overriding sentiment for millions of people on the Eastern Seaboard on Sunday who awoke to widespread flooding, downed trees and the inconvenience of power outages and road closures, but not the catastrophic damage they had feared.

"We did all right,’’ said Hal Denny, mayor of Southern Shores, N.C., a beach town on the Outer Banks, where the worst damage was wrought on trees, dozens of which were uprooted.

Still, Irene was deadly.

PHOTOS: In the path of the storm

"People have lost lives, I don't think you can say we dodged a bullet," said Federal Emergency Management Agency head Craig Fugate.

At least 19 people were killed in various storm-related accidents from Florida to Connecticut, and the death toll was expected to rise. In Harrisburg, Pa., a man sleeping outside with a group of friends died when a tree fell on his tent, police said.

And up to four million power customers, fairly evenly scattered along the hurricane’s path, still had no electricity on Sunday afternoon.

Across the length of the hurricane’s path, hundreds if not thousands of roads remained closed. In New York, authorities reopened tunnels and bridges but the city’s public transportation system remained shut down.

Despite a sense that the emergency was over, authorities warned people in the hardest hit areas to stay in their homes until ground conditions were fully assessed. They also cautioned that Irene still threatened to flood parts of New England as it lumbered northward toward New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

"I am particularly concerned about downed power lines,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on the "Today" show. "There is no, no safe place to be outside right now in New Jersey, between downed power lines, flooding. You need to stay in your home."

Continue reading »

Hurricane Irene: 'The worst of the storm has passed'

Janet_napolitano

Federal officials said Sunday morning that the worst of the storm that swept through the Eastern Seaboard had largely passed, but still threatened to flood parts of New England as it continued to move north.

Hurricane Irene, which made landfall on the North Carolina coast Saturday morning and spent the day churning through coastal towns along the mid-Atlantic coast, was downgraded to a tropical storm Sunday. Wind speeds dropped to about 65 miles per hour as the storm made its way over Long Island and New York.

"We have a ways to go, but I think it is safe to say that the worst of the storm, at least up to and including New York and New Jersey, has passed," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a briefing at FEMA headquarters in Washington.

PHOTOS: In the path of Irene

Even though the storm has now been downgraded, it poses no less of a threat to communities in its path, Napolitano said. "We're not out of the woods yet. Irene remains a large and potentially dangerous storm. Hazards still persist in communities that have already seen the storm pass."

National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read said the storm was likely to produce flooding as it continued to move through the Northeast.

"Our anticipation is with the rainfall going up into the river systems of New Hampshire and Vermont that we could see record flooding," in those areas, Read said.

The storm’s slow and steady churn along the mid-Atlantic coast may have spared the New York metropolitan area, Read said.

After making landfall in South Carolina, Irene, "never was far off land the rest of its trek up the Eastern Seaboard," Read said. "And that kept it from getting stronger," as it approached New York.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said his office was focused on assisting local efforts to ensure that affected areas were safe and would be assessing the extent of the damage in the days to come.

"Our focus really is now on the next 72 hours," Fugate said. "We may not yet have all the impacts from the storm as rivers continue to come up."

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Photo: "I think it is safe to say that the worst of the storm, at least up to and including New York and New Jersey, has passed," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a briefing at FEMA headquarters. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press


Despite damage, Mid-Atlantic residents say it could have been worse

Mid-Atlantic-residents
Mid-Atlantic residents woke up Sunday morning with a sense of relief that Hurricane Irene had not caused more damage despite overnight warnings of possible dam breaches and storm-caused problems at a nuclear power plant.

"It looks like we were really lucky," said Allen Posey, deputy director of emergency services in Annapolis, Md.  Posey said officials took the warnings seriously and made preparations based on their past experience with Hurricane Isabel, which caused significant damage in 2003. 

"This is nothing like that, thank goodness," Posey said.

PHOTOS: In the path of Irene

That was the mood at 7:30 a.m. in St. Mary's County, Md., where a bleary-eyed sheriff, Timothy K. Cameron, looked over a four-page list of local roads blocked by trees. Another sheet listed reports of modest injuries and damage.

 

Still, he concluded, "I guess we were lucky."

This mostly rural Maryland county near the confluence of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay had been on high alert since Hurricane Irene blew in early Saturday evening. At 1:37 a.m., automated "code red alert" calls went to thousands of county residents warning that the St. Mary's Lake Dam was in danger of being breached.

"It came close, but the dam is okay," Cameron said early Sunday.

At nearby Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, Md., a large gust of wind blew a piece of aluminum siding into the main transformer Saturday night, triggering an automatic shutdown of a reactor and causing the plant to declare an "unusual event."

Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, said there was no other significant damage at the Calvert Cliffs plant.

A second reactor at the plant remained online.

"There was never a threat to the public," Sullivan said.  "The site remains stable and secure."

Another code red alert was issued in Annapolis early Sunday because authorities feared that the Waterworks Dam might be breached. 

"We were worried, but we are doing OK now," city spokeswoman Rhonda Wardlaw said shortly after dawn.

The city, located where the Severn River meets the Chesapeake Bay, had several areas of flooding, more than 30 downed trees, and reports of roof damage.

Still, Wendover said, "we are now focused on cleanup."

Similar reports came from towns and cities along the Mid-Atlantic coast. Ocean City, Md., had been evacuated before the storm. Winds over 60 miles per hour forced police there to halt patrols after midnight. Residents began to return early in the morning, finding many downed trees and properties strewn with debris.

Similar reports came from Dewey Beach, Del., and shore towns in New Jersey. 

Philadelphia remained in a state of emergency, its first since 1986. In suburban areas, officials reported flooding and power outages. The Darby Town Center shopping mall parking lot was under water.

In Washington, D.C., residents awoke to slightly higher water levels on the Potomac and a steady stream of rain. The weather didn't stop vendors from setting up tents in Dupont Circle for the weekly farmer's market.

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Photo: Residents of Washington, D.C., inspect a downed tree on Yuma Street. Credit: Paul West / Washington Bureau

 

 


Hurricane Irene brings flooding to coastal Virginia

Vbeach Coastal Virginia residents coped with downed trees, power lines and some serious flooding Saturday night as a massive but weakened Hurricane Irene moved up the East Coast.

"A lot of our low-lying areas are experiencing flooding," said Steve Cover, Virginia Beach fire chief, at about 10 p.m. EDT as the eye of the storm was about 10 miles away.

PHOTOS: In the path of Irene

Dominion Power reported that nearly 800,000 Virginia customers lost power Saturday evening and three deaths were reported in the state, all due to trees falling on buildings and cars, killing occupants.

About 8 p.m., the storm blew forcefully off Chesapeake Bay into Annapolis, Md., causing localized flooding and getting the attention of even the most storm-seasoned residents of the city of 38,000.

At the time, the historic downtown area was open, with small numbers of customers at the bars and restaurants. The winds picked up over the next two hours, sometimes hitting 50 mph, according to Rhonda Wardlaw, the city's spokeswoman.

As the weather worsened,  "People figured it was time to go home," she said.

By 10 p.m., most of the bars had closed, as had major roads and bridges.

"We have heavy wind gusts and horizontal rain continuing," she said at 11 p.m. "We are in the middle of the peak of the storm." Wardlaw said the city was experienced flooding in low-lying areas, affecting  500 to 1,000 homes.

Farther north, Pennsylvania residents nervously awaited the storm. For the first time in more than a decade,  Philadelphia declared a state of emergency. Residents in low-lying areas were evacuated to shelters in several parts of the state.

Nerves were jangled but there were some light moments, even in Virginia Beach.

As Weather Channel reporter Eric Fisher delivered a newscast from a Virginia Beach street, a group of half-dressed men sauntered into camera range.

“One thing that has not decreased, that we'd like to see, is the traffic; no shortage of incredibly -- well, I'll bite my tongue -- people who have been coming out,” he said as the group appeared behind him during the live shot.

“We're talking about dozens of people who have walked by me,” he said as he spotted the group, and then turned back toward the camera. Seconds later, one of the men dropped his shorts.

“People like what you see behind me, which I apologize for,"  he continued. "I don't even want to show it. At this point, I don't even want to show you any more.”

A bit farther north, in the Washington area, the storm was a constant presence but not so threatening that it closed bars and restaurants.

"We are here and we plan to be here until the floodwaters come," said Kirsten Fiery, a bartender at the Quarry House, a venerable bar in downtown Silver Spring,  Md., a gritty first-ring suburb of Washington.

Fiery was not speaking entirely in jest: The basement pub has flooded numerous times during severe storms that have blown in over its 70-year history. As of 10 p.m., the wood-paneled bar was open, music was playing and the crowd was buoyant -- but small for a Saturday night.

"I guess people are afraid they'll blow away,” Fiery said.

Murphy's Grand Irish Pub in downtown Alexandria, Va., about seven blocks from the city dock where TV crews had staked out spots to watch the Potomac waters rise, had live music and a full bar Saturday night.

Manager Greg Davis said he hoped the storm's winds wouldn't pick up until after the pub had closed down.

“It's kind of business as usual," Davis said. "We weren't really sure what we're going to get. We're slower than usual, but we've got a full bar on both floors and people seem to be in a good mood."

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Photo: A small car gets stuck on a flooded roadway near Rudee Inlet as Hurricane Irene hits Virginia Beach, Va. Credit: Steve Helber/Associated Press




Hurricane Irene churns its way north; 8 dead

Hurricane Irene satellite
Hurricane Irene, a ferocious and slow-moving storm, smashed into North Carolina on Saturday morning, then slowly swirled its way up the Eastern Seaboard, flooding low-lying areas, knocking out power to as many as 1 million customers and forcing the densely populated regions of Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City to take unprecedented steps as they braced for impact.

At least eight people are known to have died as a result of the storm in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. 

Irene is expected to continue its northward path through New England before weakening early Sunday morning. The youngest victim, an 11-year-old boy, was killed when a tree crashed through his apartment building in Newport News, Va.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

“I've never even heard of a hurricane around here,” said Peter Watts, working at the Vitamin Shoppe in downtown Philadelphia. “Or an earthquake,” he said, referring to Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude temblor that shook the East Coast.

Storm-related disruptions of daily life were immense. About 10,000 commercial airline flights were canceled, and more than 2 million people were ordered evacuated from areas inundated by the surging floodwaters that accompanied the 450-mile-wide hurricane's northward path at 16 mph.

Evacuation orders affected people in Staten Island and Battery Park in New York City, the Jersey Shore, all coastal areas of Delaware, plus parts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

“Staying behind is dangerous, staying behind is foolish and it's against the law,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took to television to plead with about 600 seniors who refused to leave their Atlantic City high-rises. He said he feared they would be injured or worse if the hurricane’s expected 80 mph winds shattered their windows.

“You’re correct that I cannot make you leave your home and I certainly do not intend to place you under arrest to get you to leave,” Christie said. “But if you stay where you are, you’re putting yourself in danger as well as your loved ones.”

In New York City, the country’s largest subway system ground to a halt as officials took precautions against flooding. In an effort to minimize flying debris in the face of brutal, sustained winds, city sanitation workers turned over 25,000 trash cans.

Obama visits FEMA

President Obama, who paid an unannounced visit Saturday to the Federal Emergency Management Administration headquarters in Washington, declared a state of emergency in nine states.

The president praised emergency preparations, but warned that the worst was not over. “It's going to be a long 72 hours,” the president said. “And obviously a lot of families are going to be affected…. So we’ll have to stay on top of the recovery.”

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said that the large, slow-moving storm could also produce dangerous tornadoes. Tornadoes “will not be on the ground very long,” he said. “But they can still be very devastating.”

Officials also expressed concern about 11 nuclear power plants along the Eastern Seaboard and said they had dispatched staff to make sure the plants' reactors are protected by backup power systems, according to a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Though the storm was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane as it made landfall in Jacksonville, N.C., on Saturday morning, it still packed 85 mph winds and plenty of danger. Officials warned people not to underestimate Irene’s power for devastation.

“If you’re in a hurricane, you're in a hurricane,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Saturday morning at a briefing at FEMA headquarters. “We anticipate heavy rain, potential flooding and significant power outages throughout the area of the storm, which means all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.”

By Sunday morning, the storm was expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it reached New England. It will continue to lose steam as it moves north and east across the eastern edge of Canada, finally veering into the Atlantic Ocean, off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Deaths in the South

Five deaths from Hurricane Irene were reported in North Carolina.

On Friday, a man installing plywood on the window of his home in Onslow County died of a heart attack, said Ernie Seneca of the North Carolina Emergency Management office in Raleigh. A man in Nash County, N.C., was reported killed by a falling tree limb outside his home Saturday; and a third man died in Pitt County when he lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree, officials said. Two others in the state died in car accidents.

In Newport News, Va., an 11-year-old boy was killed when a tree crashed into his apartment building, said Kim Lee, a city spokeswoman. And in Brunswick County, a man died when a tree fell on his car.

And off New Smyrna Beach, Fla., authorities said, a 55-year-old surfer died in 7-foot waves.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

Also, authorities in New Hanover County, N.C., were searching for a man who either fell or jumped into the Cape Fear River on Friday as the first, outer bands of the storm began to ravage the area. A rescue team was sent out, but returned because of the rough conditions, said Michelle Harrell, an emergency operations staff member there.

“It is now more of a recovery mission,” Harrell said.

Despite the deaths and disruption, there were plenty of skeptics of the multi-state alarms and evacuation orders.

On Harker’s Island along North Carolina’s southeastern coast, for instance, the mood among many hurricane veterans was defiant. On Saturday afternoon, at Sammy’s Seafood House and Oyster Bar, owner Sammy Boyd sat at his wooden bar putting away a steak lunch.

The streets were empty, and his competitors on the touristy strip -- the Ruddy Duck, the Sanitary -- were boarded up. But Boyd -- a former commercial fisherman -- declared he was open for business.

He had been watching the storm closely, but had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the end of the world. A Category 4 or 5, he said, would have driven him to safer ground. But a Category 1? “To me, it felt like a regular old bout of wind and rain.”

Not evacuating

On Long Island, a block from the water in South Freeport, Nick Dionisio watched his neighbors take off.

“I thought he was going to stick it out,” said Dionisio as a car drove past.

“Anyone smart would leave,” replied his friend, Jesse Olivero.

Irene’s eye was predicted to hit there late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Dionisio and his friends decided to defy evacuation orders.

“You gotta watch your stuff,” said Dionisio, 23. “I got not other choice.”

Dionisio is worried about the tide that is expected to surge to 6 to 8 feet. The hurricane is set to land just as the new moon brings the highest tide of the month Sunday morning.

Dionisio planned to drive his car inland, then return by foot or bike to stay. “You don't want to be caught sleeping during this,” Dionisio said.

As Hurricane Irene's surge had reached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday afternoon, coastal Maryland and Virginia began feeling the strength of the storm.

In Ocean City, Md., police stopped patrolling about 7 p.m. as winds picked up and streets became flooded.

The city had been effectively evacuated since midnight Thursday with only 200 or so people remaining, according to city communications officer Donna Abbott. Speaking from the town’s emergency center, Abbott said police were still responding to emergency calls Saturday evening, but that those could be halted if sustained winds over 50 mph continued for 10 minutes or more.

Police in tidewater Virginia communities imposed a curfew, asking that no one travel during evening hours within the city limits of Portsmouth and Hampton. Officials in Virginia Beach ordered residents to evacuate several low-lying areas and the city opened shelters.

Flash flood watch in DC

Washington, D.C., and its suburbs were drenched but not badly disabled Saturday afternoon and early evening as bands of rain and wind started to hit the region. Anxiety and anticipation took the biggest toll during the day. Checkstands at a grocery stores in Washington's northwest quadrant were backed up as residents stocked up on food and emergency supplies.

Traffic gridlocked around Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where the city was distributing free sandbags. Residents waited hours in line only to be told in the late afternoon that the supply had been exhausted.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

Frustrated residents then learned that buying sandbags also was not an option. The Strosnider’s Hardware chain sold out of all sandbags at its three suburban Maryland locations early in the day. Power outages were reported sporadically in Maryland and Virginia as the sun set.

The district was under a flash-flood warning Saturday night, as city officials warned of winds up to 65 mph and 4 to 8 inches of rainfall.

The storm also forced officials to accelerate transfer of the last remaining in-patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The facility's Red Cross flag was lowered a day early Saturday afternoon, after original plans to close the medical center were moved up because of the impending storm.

The northwest Washington facility, which has accumulated a devoted following in its 102 years of service, had been slated for closure for years. On Saturday morning, supporters stood outside Walter Reed's gates with signs –- “Thank you for your service. We love you!” –- as an ambulance carrying the last remaining in-patient turned down Georgia Avenue.

Area airports began curtailing flights and Washington’s Reagan National Airport was reported as open but with no flights arriving or departing Saturday evening. United Airlines said it hoped to operate most of its flights out of Dulles Airport in suburban Virginia. But United Express announced it would cease operations.

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-- David Meeks in Philadelphia and New Jersey, Richard Fausset and David Zucchino in North Carolina, Kim Geiger and Tom Hamburger in Washington, D.C., Nathaniel Popper and Geraldine Baum in New York, and Stephen Ceasar and Robin Abcarian in Los Angeles.

Photo: A satellite image released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Saturday shows the sprawl of Hurricane Irene over the east coast of North Carolina as it made landfall. Credit: NOAA 


D.C. area takes its turn with Hurricane Irene

Dc irene

As Hurricane Irene's surge reached the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on Saturday afternoon, coastal Maryland and Virginia began feeling the strength of the storm.

In Ocean City, Md., police stopped patrolling at about 7 p.m. as winds picked up and streets became flooded.

The city had been effectively evacuated since midnight Thursday, with only 200 or so people remaining, according to city communications officer Donna Abbott. Speaking from the town’s emergency center, Abbott said police were still responding to emergency calls Saturday evening, but that those could be halted if sustained winds over 50 mph continued for 10 minutes or more.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

Police in tidewater Virginia communities imposed a curfew, asking that no one travel during evening hours within the city limits of Portsmouth and Hampton, Va. Officials in Virginia Beach opened shelters and ordered residents to evacuate several low-lying areas.

As of 7 p.m. Eastern, a storm surge of at least 4 feet had occurred at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, and the National Hurricane Center was predicting the surge could go as high as 8 feet.

Washington and its suburbs were drenched but not badly disabled Saturday afternoon and early evening as bands of rain and wind started to hit the region. Anxiety and anticipation took the biggest toll during the day.

Checkstands at a grocery store in Washington's northwest quadrant were backed up as residents stocked up on food and emergency supplies.

Traffic became gridlocked around Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy stadium, where the city was distributing free sandbags. Residents waited hours in line only to be told in the late afternoon that the supply was exhausted.

Frustrated residents then learned that buying sandbags also was not an option. The Strosnider’s Hardware chain sold out of all sandbags at its three suburban Maryland locations early in the day. Power outages were reported sporadically in Maryland and Virginia as the sun set.  

The district was under a flash-flood warning Saturday night, as city officials warned of winds up to 65 mph and 4 to 8 inches of rainfall.

The storm also forced officials to accelerate transfer of the last remaining inpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The facility's Red Cross flag was lowered a day early on Saturday afternoon, after original plans to close the medical center were moved up due to the impending storm.

The northwest Washington facility, which has accumulated a devoted following in its 102 years of service, had been slated for closure for years. On Saturday morning, supporters stood outside Walter Reed's gates with signs -– “Thank you for your service. We love you!” –- as an ambulance carrying the last patient turned down Georgia Avenue.

Area airports began curtailing flights. Washington’s Reagan National Airport was open, but with no flights arriving or departing Saturday evening. United Airlines said it hoped to operate most of its flights out of Dulles airport in suburban Virginia. But United Express announced it would cease operations.

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-- Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger in Silver Spring, Md., and Washington, D.C.

Photo: Tourists struggle against the wind and rain while visiting the nation's capital before the arrival of Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

 


Obama visits FEMA, predicts a 'long 72 hours' ahead

Obama fema

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.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

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.


View Hurricane Irene track forecast in a larger map

"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."

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-- 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


Hurricane Irene: Do not underestimate Category 1 storm, FEMA warns

FEMA press conference

Federal officials are warning residents in Irene's path not to underestimate the storm after it was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane as it made landfall Saturday morning.

"If you’re in a hurricane, you're in a hurricane," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a Saturday morning briefing at FEMA headquarters. "We anticipate heavy rain, potential flooding and significant power outages throughout the area of the storm, which means all up and down the Eastern Seaboard."

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

As Irene pounded the North Carolina coast with hurricane-force winds of about 85 miles per hour, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate warned that the large, slow-moving storm could produce dangerous tornadoes and heavy rain.

"When we talk about category of hurricane, that does not explain all the risk," Fugate said. Category designations indicate the risk from high winds and storm surge. But rainfall and tornadoes are risks that "are not tied to the category of storm," Fugate said.

Tornados "will not be on the ground very long," he said. "But they can still be very devastating."

Also of concern: Conditions at nuclear power plants along the Eastern Seaboard. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Saturday dispatched staff to 11 plants along the East Coast and announced new measures to check that the plants' reactors were protected by backup power systems, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.

Several inspectors were sent to affected plants and they -- along with a team at NRC headquarters -- were checking safety systems and making plans to closely monitor the facilities during the storm.

As it continues to cross North Carolina's eastern coast, Irene is expected reach Norfolk, Va., by Saturday evening.  The National Hurricane Center projects that the storm may weaken slightly but will remain "near hurricane strength" as it approaches New England.

A wind gust at 87 miles per hour was measured at Cape Hatteras, N.C, and Norfolk Naval Air Station recently reported gusts of 63 miles per hour.

President Obama visited FEMA's Washington headquarters Saturday afternoon, after receiving an earlier briefing from Napolitano and Fugate. According to a White House statement on the briefing, Obama  "reiterated that we know that this storm's impacts will continue to be felt throughout the weekend and that we still have work ahead of us to support potentially impacted states and communities."

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New Yorkers brace for a big hit form Irene: No mass transit

-- Kim Geiger and Tom Hamburger in Washington

Photo: American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern, left, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, center, and FEMA Director Craig Fugate, right, listen to a forecast of Hurricane Irene during a news  conference at FEMA headquarters Saturday in Washington. Credit: Luis M. Alvarez/ Associated Press


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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