Obama officials to tour hurricane destruction

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Obama administration officials fanned out across the storm-tossed East on Tuesday to assess the damage from Hurricane Irene’s landfall in North Carolina and its deadly travel up the coast through New England.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were heading to North Carolina and Virginia, while Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate was traveling to Vermont, according to an announcement from the Department of Homeland Security. That state has been especially hard hit by heavy rains that swelled rivers and streams, flooding and isolating many communities.

FEMA deputy administrator Rich Serino was planning to stop in Hartford, Conn., then travel to New Jersey, the statement said.

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Such visits from top administration officials are common after major disasters. Cabinet officials also surveyed relief and rebuilding efforts in the South and Midwest after flooding crushed the region in the late spring.

The tours also often serve as a precursor to a presidential visit as well.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president had been briefed in the morning on the situations related to Irene, which hit the United States as a Category One hurricane Saturday and was later downgraded to a tropical storm. It was unclear whether, or when, the president would visit any of the areas.

“I don’t have any update -- travel updates,” Carney said in an account of the briefing. “There’s still a response status in some states, and now a recovery focus.’ He said the president is working with the FEMA administrator and other members of his team, including Napolitano.

Napolitano and Vilsack are scheduled to visit Elizabeth City, N.C., to survey crop damage during an aerial tour of Tyrrell County and to receive a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center. Later, the pair was planning to travel to Richmond, Va., to meet with local officials.

FEMA’s Fugate was scheduled to join Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch in Burlington, Vt., for a helicopter tour of the storm-damaged areas of the state.

In Hartford, FEMA deputy administrator Serino was to meet with state and local officials and assess the damage; the mission to New Jersey was expected to be similar.


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--Michael Muskal