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US hunkers down after hurricane smashes Bahamas
by Staff Writers
Hatteras, North Carolina (AFP) Aug 26, 2011

Millions of people on the US east coast prepared Friday for a rare hurricane hit after Irene battered the Bahamas, leaving a trail of destruction and at least five dead.

Authorities from North Carolina to New York declared states of emergency and tens of thousands of people were ordered to higher ground as Irene, a category three hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, raced toward the US mainland.

Irene is forecast to make landfall on Saturday, and state and federal authorities wasted no time warning the 65 million people living in the path of the storm.

"There's hardly any excuse for people not to know that there's a hurricane out there," said Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on Thursday.

"People need to understand that their time will be running out to be prepared and be ready," he told reporters on a conference call.

At 0600 GMT Friday Irene was located off the Atlantic coast of Florida about 740 kilometers (460 miles) southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported.

The storm was moving towards the north at 22 kilometers (14 miles) per hour, and on its current path is set to slam into North Carolina early Saturday.

The center of Irene is then forecast to continue towards the northeast near the Atlantic coastline toward New York City.

Irene will be accompanied by an "extremely dangerous" storm surge that could raise water levels by as much as 11 feet (3.4 meters), the NHC said.

While Caribbean and Atlantic islands are accustomed to hurricanes, the northeastern United States usually experiences only the remnants of storms. Gloria in 1985 was the last major hurricane to hit the New York area.

It would be the second unusual scare in a week for the East Coast after a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday rattled major cities including Washington.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency in North Carolina and federal authorities said they had stored millions of meals and bottles of water for people who wind up in shelters.

US military officers said that up to 98,000 members of the National Guard were available if needed. The Navy's Second Fleet ordered all its ships away from its major port at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in anticipation of the storm.

Authorities in North Carolina's coastal Dare County -- where up to 180,000 people, including summer vacationers are believed to be present -- warned that emergency personnel would not be able to reach anyone who defied the mandatory evacuation by Friday morning.

"If you choose to stay, we can't issue a criminal citation, but you are leaving yourself wide open to extreme conditions," county official Kelly Davis said.

The hurricane delayed the long-awaited dedication of a memorial on Washington's National Mall to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., which was set to open Sunday on the 48th anniversary of his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"It is with a heavy heart and enormous disappointment that we announce that, in the interest of public safety, we are forced to change our plans," memorial chief Harry Johnson said.

He said the 28-foot (nine-meter) tall granite likeness of King, designed by Chinese artist Lei Yixin, would be formally dedicated in September or October.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told residents that skyscrapers would be safe but warned residents to prepare to move to higher ground.

"If you have a car and live in a low lying area, park it on a hill," Bloomberg told a press conference. "Move stuff upstairs."

Bloomberg authorized the evacuation of hospitals and other vulnerable institutions in the most low-lying areas of New York City, while neighboring New Jersey ordered 750,000 people out of the remote Cape May area.

Irene smashed through the Caribbean and then on Wednesday hit the Bahamas, where homes were destroyed, roads were flooded and power was cut off but there were no initial reports of casualties.

Haiti, while not directly under Irene's eye, suffered from heavy rains dumped by the hurricane. Civil defense authorities said two people died when they were swept away by raging waters in a ravine.

Another 1,000 people were displaced by flooding caused by Irene, officials said, leading to fears of a new outbreak of cholera. The water-borne disease killed some 5,000 people in Haiti in the wake of last year's major earthquake.

The Dominican Republic reported two deaths including that of an 18-year-old pregnant woman, Miguelina Perez, who was washed away in a river.

One person was killed in Puerto Rico, where the storm became a hurricane on Monday. Puerto Rican authorities estimated damage at more than $500 million.


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Storm delays Martin Luther King memorial ceremony
Washington (AFP) Aug 25, 2011
The long-awaited dedication of a US national memorial to slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King scheduled for this weekend has been delayed due to Hurricane Irene, organizers said Thursday. The dedication - slated for Sunday, the 48th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech - will instead take place in September or October, said Harry Johnson, head of the memorial project. "I ... read more

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