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Obama briefed on Irene as storm weakens, moves north; Napolitano says worst over in most areas
WASHINGTON (AP) ' Obama administration officials said Sunday that the worst of Tropical Storm Irene may be over for many on the East Coast, though they urged communities still in the storm's path to remain vigilant.
"We have a ways to go, but I think it is safe to say that the worst of the storm, at least up to and including New York and New Jersey, has passed," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
President Barack Obama and top administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Napolitano, were briefed Sunday morning in the Situation Room. The White House said Obama asked administration officials to stay in touch with governors and local leadership in areas affected by the storm. Obama planned to meet with his aides for another storm briefing Sunday evening.
Napolitano said the president urged government officials to continue to be aggressive in their efforts to deal with Irene and its aftermath. She said Irene remained large and potentially dangerous.
"Our No. 1 message for individuals and families up and down the Eastern Seaboard this morning is that we're not out of the woods yet," she said.
Irene made landfall as a tropical storm with 65 mph winds, not the 100-mph hurricane that had churned up the East Coast and dumped a foot of water or more on less-populated areas in the South. Many areas, including New York City, appeared to escape with less damage than first expected.
However, government officials said Sunday that it will take several days before they can fully assess Irene's impact.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said teams are first checking on damage in North Carolina, where reports are mostly of flooding, downed trees and damaged highways. However, he said the damage could get worse if swollen rivers flood in the coming days.
Fugate said FEMA will work closely with the White House to determine what type of funds may be needed to help cities and states recover.
The National Hurricane Center said late Sunday morning that the tropical storm's maximum sustained winds had decreased to about 60 mph. Irene was expected to continue to weaken as it passes over New England, and it's expected to move over eastern Canada by Sunday night. It remains a massive storm, however, with powerful winds extending more than 300 miles from the center.