- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2011

An impending storm threatening to be the worst to hit the region in nearly a decade has prompted evacuations and declarations of emergency and forced the postponement of the Sunday dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Mall.

The foundation responsible for the dedication of the monument confirmed creeping suspicions with an announcement late Thursday that the ceremonies, highlighted by remarks from President Obama, would be delayed indefinitely because of the storm threat.

“Without question, we are all saddened by this, but we remained optimistic all along,” said Harry E. Johnson, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation.

Mr. Johnson said the cancellation was his decision — along with the city and the National Park Service — and stemmed from “concern for public safety of the citizens of D.C. and our visitors.” The storm, which is expected to dump 2 to 5 inches of rain on the D.C. region between Saturday and Sunday afternoons, is also projected to bring wind gusts at times reaching 35 to 40 miles per hour.

The cancellation allows the estimated crowd of 250,000 people that was expected to attend the event to either head out of town, Mr. Johnson said, or cancel plans to travel to the District.

He said it was too early to name a new date for the dedication, but speculated that it would likely be in September or October.

“We need to get through these next couple days,” he said.

The decision reversed earlier pronouncements in which Mr. Johnson insisted the dedication would take place regardless of the fact that Hurricane Irene was heading for the East Coast and could cause torrential rain and high winds in the capital region.

“We did not bring you this far not to have a dedication,” Mr. Johnson said earlier in the day.

Hurricane Irene has the potential to devastate the Northeast, garnering comparisons to 1985’s Hurricane Gloria, which brushed the Outer Banks of North Carolina, hugged the Mid-Atlantic, then eventually hit Long Island and Connecticut, causing roughly $900 million in damage.

The storm has also been compared to 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, which veered inland from the coast of North Carolina toward the District, Maryland and Virginia, where it killed more than 30 people and caused about $1 billion in damage.

Irene is expected to hit coastal Maryland and Virginia with hurricane-force winds, as much as 10 inches of rain and potential life-threatening conditions, but it will likely bring less severe — but still dangerous — conditions to the D.C. area, National Weather Service spokesman Kevin Witt said.

Mr. Witt said Hurricane Irene will probably reach the coast of North Carolina late Saturday morning with strength superior to that of Hurricane Isabel in 2003, but will instead continue up the East Coast toward New England, rather than move toward the District and its suburbs. The D.C. region is expected to have sustained winds of 20 to 25 miles per hour.

“We should see wind, but I don’t think prolonged period of winds,” Mr. Witt said. “We’re going be on the good side of this storm.”

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