By MARK S. SMITH, Associated Press
VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. (AP) _ Urging everyone in Hurricane Irene’s path to get ready, President Barack Obama decided to cut his vacation short Friday and return to the White House for a storm he described as potentially historic.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president would leave Martha’s Vineyard a day early, on Friday night, because it was prudent to be in place in Washington as Irene strikes the Eastern Seaboard.President Obama on Hurricane Irene to web
Earnest said the president told staff of the change shortly after urging the millions of Americans in the path of the hurricane to heed instructions from state and local officials, especially if directed to evacuate.
“Don’t wait, don’t delay,” Obama said. The storm was on course to rake the coastline from North Carolina to New England over the weekend.
The president, speaking from his vacation rental on the island, said the federal government is “bringing all federal resources to bear” in response.
“I cannot stress this highly enough, if you are in the projected path of this hurricane you have to take precautions now,” he said.
Illustrating government preparations, Earnest said that the administration conducted a national exercise to test emergency preparedness in 2009. He said the exercise included a simulated hurricane that struck New York City. He said the president participated in that exercise.
Though Martha’s Vineyard is in Irene’s path, Earnest said Obama’s decision to return to Washington Friday night, instead of Saturday as planned, was not made out of worry about his personal safety.
First lady Michelle Obama and the couple’s two daughters, Sasha and Malia, were to join the president on his flight home. Obama has been vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard since Aug. 18.
Obama said he had been briefed on Irene’s status Friday morning by top federal officials. He also talked to governors of states and mayors of communities in the expected hurricane path, including mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia.
Warnings were in effect from North Carolina to New Jersey.
As the president spoke, rains from Irene’s outer bands began hitting the Carolinas, along with 6- to 9-foot waves. On Martha’s Vineyard, though, Obama stood in the shade of a poplar tree outside a gray-shingled cottage. Otherwise it was bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky.
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been deploying teams along Irene’s projected path. The agency has millions of liters of water, millions of meals and tens of thousands of cots and blankets positioned along the Eastern Seaboard, he said.
And the American Red Cross has been preparing shelters in North Carolina and other states, he said.
Obama cautioned that it would take time after the storm to begin rescue operations and get resources to people in need.
“So the more you can do to be prepared now, making a plan, make a supply kit , know your evacuation route, follow instructions of your local officials, the quicker we can focus our resources after the storm on those who need help the most,” he said.
“All indications point to this being a historic hurricane.”
Two years ago, Obama’s first vacation on Martha’s Vineyard as president was delayed by Hurricane Bill.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)