Updated 9:57 p.m. ET
With Hurricane Irene pummeling the East Coast on Saturday, at least nine states are seeking federal disaster assistance in anticipation of major flooding and wind damage.
President Obama has signed emergency declarations for New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island and New Hampshire after declaring similar emergencies in North Carolina and Puerto Rico earlier in the week.
A federal emergency declaration means states can quickly apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding to help pay for emergency services in the days after a storm. Later, states will apply for federal disaster declarations, to receive funding for repairs to roads, public buildings, water treatment plants and electrical grids, among other services.
Getting the federal emergency declaration process started before a storm should also later expedite the requests of people in need of individual disaster assistance.
“Each conversation I have had with state and local officials, they have confirmed to me that the relationship with FEMA has been outstanding,” Obama said Saturday after a teleconference with federal and state officials during a visit to FEMA headquarters in Washington. “The interagency cooperation at the federal level has been outstanding. They recognize that this is going to be a tough slide getting through this thing, but they are very appreciative of the outstanding work that all of you have done.’’
“It’s going to be a long 72 hours and obviously a lot of families are going to be affected,” Obama added. “What we heard, the biggest concern I am having right now is the flooding and power. It sounds like that is going to be an enormous strain on a lot of states, and that may take days, even longer in some cases, depending on the track of the storm.’’
“We’re really at the beginning of this storm response,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Saturday, vowing that her department and the entire Obama administration would work on storm response and recovery for as long as necessary.
Roughly $900 million is immediately available in the federal disaster assistance fund, according to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. If needed, the Obama administration would need authorization from Congress to distribute more money to already cash-strapped states and cities.
Here is an agency-by-agency rundown of storm preparations as of Saturday night (read here for what they did yesterday to prepare):
Eighteen Incident Management Assistance Teams are deployed across South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont, and are headed to the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island. The agency said their staff will coordinate with local and state officials “to identify needs and shortfalls impacting potential disaster response and recovery.”
FEMA’s community liaisons are also staging along the East Coast in anticipation of assisting affected residents with information on applying for federal services and resources.
(RELATED STORY: FEMA liaisons bring aid and information to tornado zone)
The agency is also briefing members of Congress frequently on storm preparations.
FEMA also launched a new Android app, saying its iPhone/iPad and BlackBerry apps are still a few weeks away.
“We’re looking for your feedback and suggestions” on the apps, Fugate said. “But I’m proud to announce that FEMA now has an app for that.”
NOAA's hurricane-hunter aircraft, which fly into hurricanes to provide a more accurate description and forecast, have been flying into Irene regularly. The agency's deputy director, Kathryn Sullivan, flew in one of the aircraft Friday and conducted live phone interviews with radio and television outlets.
The agency’s Environmental Visualization Laboratory is also producing stunning satellite imagery of the storm and time-lapse video:
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE:
The mail agency says normal service operations along the East Coast may be affected in the event of high winds, flooding or impassable roads.
Some post offices may also need to close because of storm damage.
Service updates are available at: http://about.usps.com/news/service-alerts/welcome.htm.
On Twitter: @USPSConnect
The agency is deploying Roll Call units tasked with surveying whether communications systems — including police, fire and emergency medical systems, radio and television stations — are working in the storm’s path.
The teams are tasked with assisting local and state authorities in determining which wireless communication systems are up or down, the agency said. The data also will be shared with FEMA so it can provide local and state officials with additional communications equipment.
FCC also published tips on how to communicate during disasters:
1. Limit non-emergency phone calls.
2. Keep phone calls brief.
3. Try text messaging, also known as short messaging service (SMS), when using your wireless phone.
4. If possible, try a variety of communications services if you are unsuccessful in getting through with one.
5. Wait 10 seconds before redialing a call.
6. Have charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power for your wireless phone.
7. Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers in your phone.
8. If in your vehicle, try to place calls while your vehicle is stationary.
9. Have a family communications plan in place.
10. If you have call forwarding on your home number, forward your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation.
11. After the storm has passed, if you lose power in your home, try using your car to charge cellphones or listen to news alerts on the car radio.
12. Tune-in to broadcast and radio news for important news alerts.
On Twitter: @FCC
Military officials are on standby at FEMA’s response coordination center in Washington and at its regional offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
U.S. COAST GUARD:
The Coast Guard reports a “heightened state of readiness” at various ports along the East Coast.
On Twitter: @uscoastguard
CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION:
The agency is urging people affected by the storm to be careful during a loss of electricity, because of the increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire.
The agency and the U.S. Fire Administration also warn consumers never to use portable generators inside their home, especially in garages, basements or sheds.
On Twitter: @OnSafety
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES:
The department said it has deployed three Disaster Medical Assistance Teams to staging areas along the coast. The teams include doctors, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists trained to support local medical facilities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has activated the National Public Health Radio Network, which provides federal state, and local authorities with backup medical communications equipment.
More on the radio network here: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/nphrn/
On Twitter: @PHEgov
The department’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability is tracking electrical grids up and down the East Coast. Its most recent report (PDF) details the hundreds of thousands of power outages across the Carolinas, Delaware, Marylan and the District of Columbia — with many more expected as the weekend continues.
On Twitter: @ENERGY
The agency is reminding Americans to carefully store water and ensure that their food and medical supplies are stocked. Tips on how to keep food safe during and after an emergency is available at FoodSafety.gov.
On Twitter: @foodsafetygov
SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION:
The agency — one of the busiest in the weeks after a natural disaster — is urging business owners to prepare and is encouraging business to heed the warnings of local officials. “If they say to close up shop or evacuate, don’t hesitate,” SBA said in a statement.
On Twitter: @SBAgov
NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION:
The agency — which dodged a bullet with this week’s East Coast earthquake — says it is assessing nuclear power plant preparations, and has deployed additional inspectors to nuclear plants in the storm’s path.
On Twitter: @NRCgov
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS:
The department has at least partially evacuated some medical centers in Virginia, New York and Delaware and has completed all other storm preparations, according to the White House.
Online updates on the VA’s official blog: http://www.blogs.va.gov
On Twitter: @DeptVetAffairs
The organization, which isn’t a federal entity, coordinates closely with the federal government and local and state governments. It is providing shelter information for residents, and roughly two-thirds of its national vehicle fleet is either in or headed to East Coast states to provide assistance.
“This is going to last a long time,” American Red Cross President Gail McGovern said Saturday morning. She urged concerned Americans to make monetary or blood donations to help.
A new Red Cross iPhone app already has more than 15,000 downloads, McGovern said.
On Twitter: @RedCross
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost
• Tracking maps and radar
• ’Extreme’ risk to coastal mid-Atlantic, southern New England (Aug. 24)
• First an earthquake, next a hurricane? (Aug. 24)
• Photos: Preparing for Hurricane Irene
• What it might mean for D.C., nearby beaches (Aug. 24)
• Video: Evacuations underway along coast (Aug. 24)
• Video: Irene strenghtens (Aug. 24)
• How to prepare for disaster