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Obama takes charge at hurricane command center
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 27, 2011

US President Barack Obama warned Saturday the US east coast was in for a "long 72 hours" as he led his government's response to Hurricane Irene at a disaster command center in Washington.

Obama chaired a meeting at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) set up at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, which is marshaling federal and local hurricane-relief efforts.

"This is going to be a tough slog getting through this thing," Obama said during a video teleconference including senior federal officials and local government agencies in the east coast path of Irene.

"It's going to be a long 72 hours. Obviously a lot of families are going to be affected ... the biggest concern I'm having right now has to do with flooding and power," Obama said during the videoconference.

"(It) sounds like that's going to be an enormous strain on a lot of states" that could last days, or even longer in some cases, he said.

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 said Obama heard updates from governors and emergency management officials in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

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 in 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.

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Navy ships avoid storm, poised for relief effort: US
Washington (AFP) Aug 27, 2011 - Dozens of US Navy ships in the Atlantic moved out of the path of Hurricane Irene and are now poised to help with relief efforts in coastal areas battered by the storm, officials said Saturday.

The US Second Fleet said 38 ships, including 27 vessels that were pulled out of the port of Hampton Roads, Virginia to avoid potential damage, had managed to stay away from Irene's powerful winds and high seas, the Navy said in a statement.

"The ships have safely moved around the storm and are now coming in behind it, prepared to provide any requested support," it said.

Vice Admiral Daniel Holloway, commander of the Virginia-based US Second Fleet, said an array of ships and aircraft were at the ready to carry out search and rescue efforts, medical services and air transport as needed.

The vessels included amphibious ships with fleets of helicopters and the aircraft included P-3 Orion surveillance planes able to deliver video images of coastal areas hit by Hurricane Irene to assess the storm's damage.

Naval diving and construction units were also at the ready, officials said.

The US military has made available up to 101,000 National Guard troops to states on the East Coast while Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Saturday issued a prepare-to-deploy order for 6,500 active duty troops to support relief efforts.

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Iraq unveils 100,000-home 'master plan'
Baghdad (AFP) Aug 25, 2011
Iraq's investment commission and a South Korean construction firm unveiled a "master plan" on Thursday to develop a sprawling suburb of Baghdad with 100,000 homes in a $7.25 billion deal. The final contract for the Besmaya redevelopment project has yet to be signed, but promotional material displayed at a news conference promised a "new home for 600,000 Baghdadis", a day after commission chi ... read more

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