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US orders ships to sea, coast braces for hurricane
by Staff Writers
Hatteras, North Carolina (AFP) Aug 25, 2011

The US Navy Thursday ordered all its ships away from its huge port at Hampton Roads, Virginia, as the eastern US seaboard braced for the destructive-strength Hurricane Irene.

"Ships will make final preparations overnight in anticipation of getting underway early August 25 (Friday)," a Navy statement said.

Vice Admiral Daniel Holloway, commander of the US 2nd Fleet, said that the decision to send the ships from Hampton Roads is based on Hurricane Irene's current track that indicates the storm will produce at least 50 knots of wind and a large storm surge.

Irene is a category three hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, and is forecast to strengthen to a category four storm with winds of 135 miles (217 kilometers) per hour by the time it reaches the US coast over the weekend.

Along the coastline North Carolina, directly in Irene's path as its forecast to skirt north, officials ordered mandatory evacuations for tourists.

"The forecasted destructive winds and tidal surge is too great to keep the ships in port. There is a much greater potential of not only the ships being damaged, but also the pier infrastructure," said Holloway, adding that the ships would fare better storms of such magnitude out at sea.

"Having the ships underway also makes them ready and available to respond to any national tasking, including any needed disaster response efforts in the local area after the storm has passed," he said.

The National Weather Service puts the hurricane either making landfall on the Outer Banks or skirting just east of the barrier islands.

Sparsely populated in the winter, many of the islands are a popular tourist destination in the summer.

Affie Meekins, 55, works for the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center on the Outer Banks, and said despite being directly in the path of the hurricane, like a number of other residents, she refused to leave.

"We're picking up what needs to be picked up and battening down the hatches," Meekins told AFP.

"I don't evacuate. I'm a tough one," she added.

Some sought to take advantage of the waves ahead of the big storm

At the Sweetwater Surf Shop in Wrightsville Beach, Alex Winslow said he was out surfing and saw more than 40 other surfers out before 8 am Thursday.

"The surf is still really clean and really fun," said Winslow, a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

For many counties along the coast, today was to have been the first day of school. The three eastern-most counties in the path of the storm cancelled classes for the first day of school and instead will open Monday.

Hurricane Irene pounded the Bahamas Thursday before its approach to the populous US east coast, punishing the nation of small islands with heavy rain and powerful winds.

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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.

"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," Johnson told a news conference.

Johnson said that the dedication would be "moved to a date yet to be determined in September or October."

"There are so many individuals who worked tirelessly to dedicate the dream, and make this memorial a reality," he said.

The 28-foot (nearly nine-meter) "Stone of Hope" statue is a white granite likeness of King gazing off into the horizon, his arms folded. Designed by Chinese artist Lei Yixin, the memorial cost $120 million.

Visitors enter through the Mountain of Despair, a huge boulder symbolizing African Americans' struggle for peace and equality.

"In the words of Dr. King, we must accept the finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope. With that in mind, let's remember the spirit of the memorial -- justice, democracy, hope and love," Johnson said.

Hurricane Irene is scheduled to hit the US East Coast on Saturday, slamming into North Carolina before heading north toward major population centers including New York City.

While Washington is further inland than a number of other cities, rail operator Amtrak has called off train service between the US capital and the South, and a number of coastal communities are already being evacuated.

President Barack Obama, the first African American US leader, had been scheduled to speak at the dedication on Sunday, a day after ending his vacation on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Organizers of the King memorial will still mark the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech with an inter-faith prayer service on Saturday in Washington, Johnson said.

The prayer service also saw changes as it was originally scheduled to take place at the National Cathedral, which suffered damage during a rare earthquake on Tuesday.

The prayer service will now be held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America.

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Hurricane Irene threatens islands, US east coast
Grand Bahama, Bahamas (AFP) Aug 23, 2011
Hurricane Irene bore down on the Bahamas Tuesday as a category one storm, churning on a track that could see it slam the US mainland later in the week. Forecasters who downgraded Irene, now packing winds of 90 miles (150 kilometers) per hour, said it could still become a major hurricane by Wednesday as it swirls past a series of islands toward the US east coast. At 0000 GMT, Irene was ce ... read more

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