- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The first major Atlantic hurricane this season could hit the region by the late weekend, threatening the long-awaited dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the Mall.

The latest projections include Hurricane Irene likely hitting North Carolina’s Outer Banks by Thursday or Friday, then traveling up the Chesapeake Bay and into the region by Sunday — the day an estimated 245,000 people are expected to attend the official dedication.

“If the fast-forward motion of the storm continues, it could spread damage, including that of downed trees, power lines and coastal flooding issues into the Mid-Atlantic late this weekend and into southern and eastern New England by early next week,” according to AccuWeather.com.

Most computer models show at least heavy rain coming in the region from Irene, now a Category 1 hurricane.

“As Irene gets closer, we will probably see some contingency plans being made to either move up or postpone the dedication a day,” said Ann Loikow of the D.C. Host Committee, which has most of its events scheduled for Saturday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday morning that officials are already talking about what to do should the storm hit Washington on Sunday.

“It’s a little too early to project what the impact [of the storm] will be, but we have started those discussions,” said FEMA chief Craig Fugate. “We’re working with the capital region.”

Memorial visitors have already been forced to leave once during the weeklong series of events, when an earthquake centered about 90 miles southwest of the District on Tuesday forced the evacuation of all memorials and monuments of the Mall.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation has not responded to questions about contingency plans.

Irene has already brought heavy rain and wind to the Caribbean, and left more than a million people in Puerto Rico without power. The storm is expected overnight to hit the U.K. territory of the Turks and Caicos.

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