U.S. President Barack Obama is warning that the impact of Tropical Storm Irene is just beginning to be felt. Nearly 20 lives have been lost, and property damage has been estimated in the billions of dollars. The president spoke Sunday as the former hurricane moved through the Northeastern United States toward Canada.
Although Irene has weakened and left some of America’s biggest cities, President Obama cautioned that the U.S. East Coast will continue to feel its effects.
“Many Americans are still at serious risk of power outages and flooding, which could get worse in the coming days as rivers swell past their banks," he said. "So I want people to understand that this is not over.”
The president spoke in the White House Rose Garden, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate at his side.
They and other national and state government officials have been briefing Mr. Obama about the storm for several days. The president returned to Washington on Friday night from his vacation in Massachusetts, about a half-day earlier than scheduled.
President Obama urged patience, noting that assessing and repairing the damage from Irene will take time.
“I do want to underscore that the impacts of this storm will be felt for some time, and the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer,” he said.
The storm made landfall in the southeastern state of North Carolina on Saturday, blasting the Atlantic coast with high winds and heavy rain, and causing tornadoes, flooding and falling trees.
More than four million homes and businesses lost electricity - from North Carolina to the U.S.-Canada border.
Airports in and around New York City are expected to remain closed until Monday.
Officials warn that further flooding is likely, as water from the storm moves into rivers. They also say that trees will continue to fall due to the rain-saturated soil.
President Obama said he will continue to receive briefings on the situation, and will give state and local officials all of the help they need. He praised emergency workers, volunteers and state and local governments for their work during the storm.