WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Saturday personally led his government’s response to Hurricane Irene, marshalling top officials and visiting a disaster command center as the storm roared ashore.
Obama greeted officials at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) set up at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, and then held a video conference with federal and state officials.
“You guys are doing a great job obviously,” Obama told a group in the command center. “This is obviously going to be a touch and go.”
Officials said the NRCC brings together multiple government agencies and departments to coordinate disaster response with federal, state and local groups around the clock.
The White House appears to have carefully considered the lesson of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when a botched response effort and confusion between state and federal agencies inflicted a heavy political price on president George W. Bush.
Obama returned home one night early on Friday from his island vacation on Martha’s Vineyard off Massachusetts and appeared keen to be visibly in charge as the response to Hurricane Irene unfolds.
Earlier on Saturday, Obama held a conference call with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate and other senior emergency management officials.
“The president 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,” the White House said.
Sustained winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) an hour lashed coastal areas as Irene made landfall near the southern end of a chain of barrier islands that ring the North Carolina coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
Cities along the east coast of the United States — from Washington to New York to Boston — braced for the impact, with hundreds of thousands of people ordered to evacuate low-lying areas.