Federal officials are placing personnel and equipment close to areas where heavy damage from Hurricane Matthew is expected, aiming to respond more quickly than in the wakes of past storms.
The Category 4 storm will soon move over the island of Cuba and head north, putting the Eastern Seaboard of the United States squarely in its path. Matthew, with its 145 mph winds and torrential rains, is already being compared to Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
That storm struck near the border of North and South Carolina 62 years ago — where Matthew is projected to make landfall — then headed north, leaving as many as 1,200 dead and an estimated $308 million (1954 dollars) of damage in its wake.
The White House announced Tuesday that President Barack Obama has canceled a planned trip on Wednesday to Tampa, Florida, where he was slated to deliver remarks on his signature health care law. And Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign scrapped a late-afternoon rally with Obama in Miami Gardens.
The former offered Obama a chance to correct a gaffe from former President Bill Clinton, who on Monday referred to aspects of the health law as “the craziest thing in the world.” The latter cancellation comes just as many political observers believe Hillary Clinton is poised to move ahead of Republican rival Donald Trump.
Instead, Obama will head to the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in southwest Washington, D.C., for a briefing on the agency’s preparations and planned response.
FEMA and Obama administration officials are trying something new this time.
Federal officials are “pre-positioning commodities and resources to incident support bases in Albany, Georgia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday, calling it a “relatively new innovation.”
The idea is to marshal resources and position them “at a facility that is out of the path of the storm, but still in proximity to areas that could potentially be affected by the storm, can expedite the provision of assistance in the immediate aftermath of a storm,” Earnest said.
FEMA is already moving supplies to Albany and Fort Bragg under the assumption that the goods will be needed in nearby areas that appear directly in Matthew’s path “shortly after the storm has passed,” he added.
The White House is also urging anyone who might be in the storm’s projected path to “begin taking steps to prepare.”