President Obama is cutting short his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to return to Washington tonight in anticipation of Hurricane Irene’s landfall this weekend.
The president has warned Americans to take Hurricane Irene seriously and urged them to obey orders to evacuate from the path of what is likely to be an “extremely dangerous and costly” storm.
“I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don’t wait. Don’t delay,” he said after a briefing by top federal officials.
Seven states, including New York, declared a state of emergency, and hundreds of thousands of people evacuated their homes in anticipation of violent winds and severe flooding. Mr Obama told those in potential danger: “”All indications point to this being a historic hurricane. If you are given an evacuation order, follow it. Don’t wait. Don’t delay.”
Cities up and down the east coast are bracing for the storm. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Friday afternoon that the city would be shutting down the city’s subway and transit systems and ordered a mandatory evacuation of costal areas of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and lower Manhattan.
“You only have to look at the weather maps to understand how big this storm is and how unique it is,” Michael Bloomberg said, “and it’s heading basically for us.”
He has ordered a mandatory evacuation of people living in low-lying areas — something the city has never done before. About 270,000 residents have been told to find higher ground by 5 p.m. ET Saturday in America’s most densely populated city.
“We’ve never done a mandatory evacuation before, and we wouldn’t be doing it now if we didn’t think this storm had the potential to be very serious,” Bloomberg said.
The final runs for subways, buses and commuter trains in the city, on Long Island and in the northern suburbs will end around noon Saturday.
Hurricane Irene is set to strike North Carolina this afternoon before heading north up the US coast as far as Massachusetts, where the president announced he was abandoning his summer holiday on Martha’s Vineyard 12 hours early.
Days after a rare earthquake, the storm presents a rare danger for the coast’s 65 million residents. “This is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time,” said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
A category-two storm that left a trail of destruction in the Bahamas earlier this week, Irene is expected to cause tens of billions of dollars in damage through winds of up to 115 miles per hour. It is expected to dump up to a foot of rain on New York City.
The president had originally been scheduled to stay in Martha’s Vineyard through Saturday. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the president said to “his team” that he wanted to leave early, shortly following an address in which the president cautioned East Coast residents to prepare for the storm.
Obama’s vacation has come under fire from Republicans, who argue that the trip was ill-timed considering troubling economic news and developments in Libya. The president has also had to grapple with the effects of an earthquake that shook the eastern seaboard Tuesday.
By leaving tonight, the Obamas should return to Washington before the storm hits the area. Although the nation’s capital is not expected to receive the brunt of the storm, the region is under a tropical storm warning. Some commercial flights and trains into D.C. have already been canceled.
The government has also been coordinating with nonprofit groups like the American Red Cross, NAACP and the Southern Baptist Convention to open shelters and prepare supplies.