President Obama has signed emergency declarations in more Eastern states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia — in a step that formally allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mobilize resources in response to Hurricane Irene.
The White House announced the declarations throughout Saturday. Obama cut short his Martha’s Vineyard vacation and returned to Washington on Friday night in anticipation of the storm’s landfall Saturday.
Obama signed emergency declarations for New York on Friday and for North Carolina on Thursday.
The storm made landfall Saturday morning in North Carolina and is expected to move up the East Coast over the weekend.
Rain and winds are already hitting North Carolina, and MSNBC reported early Saturday that 120,000 people were already without power in the state.
The National Hurricane Center early Saturday downgraded the storm to a Category-1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour.
“Some weakening is expected after Irene reaches the coast of North Carolina ... but Irene is forecast to remain a hurricane as it moves near or over the mid-Atlantic states and New England,” the hurricane center said.
The weather center’s advisory also warned that the storm will produce an “extremely dangerous” storm tide along the East Coast and that dangerous rains are expected in several states.
“These rains could cause widespread flooding and life-threatening flash floods,” the weather center said in its early Saturday.
The emergency declarations that Obama signed for the Eastern states enable FEMA to “coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures,” the White House said.
“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.”
On Friday, the president warned Americans to prepare for the looming storm as quickly as possible.
“I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now,” Obama said. “Don’t wait. Don’t delay.”
Cities up and down the East Coast are bracing for the storm. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Friday afternoon that the city would be shutting down its public transit systems and ordered a mandatory evacuation of coastal areas of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Lower Manhattan.
“You only have to look at the weather maps to understand how big this storm is and how unique it is,” Bloomberg said, “and it’s heading basically for us.”
This story was last updated at 11:50 a.m.