Updated 1:36 p.m. Eastern Time
President Obama urged Americans Friday to "take precautions now" to prepare for a hurricane that he said is projected to be "historic."
"I cannot stress this highly enough," Mr. Obama said from Blue Heron Farm on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he is on vacation with his family. "If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don't wait. Don't delay. We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst."
Mr. Obama urged Americans to consult ready.gov and listo.gov for tips on how to prepare for Hurricane Irene, and urged them to have a plan and supply kit in place for when the storm hits. (Listo is the Spanish word for ready.) He also said they should know their evacuation route.
"All of us have to take this storm seriously. You need to listen to your state and local officials. And if you are given an evacuation order, please follow it," he said.
The outer bands of Hurricane Irene reached North Carolina Friday morning, prompting power losses and evacuations. The Category 2 storm is expected to cause billions of dollars in damages as it travels through densely populated areas up the East Coast as far north as Massachusetts.
Though it is not possible to predict the storm's impact with "perfect certainty," Mr. Obama said Friday, "all indications point to this being a historic hurricane." Mr. Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned millions of liters of water, millions of meals and tens of thousands of cots and blankets along the East Coast, and that the American Red Cross had begun preparing shelters in North Carolina and other states.
The president said he had spoken to senior members of his emergency response team and "directed them to make sure that we are bringing all federal resources to bear and deploying them properly to cope not only with the storm, but also its aftermath." He said he had spoken with elected officials in the metropolitan areas expected to be hit by the storm and that the administration would support their response efforts.
Mr. Obama said adequate preparation will reduce the strain on rescue workers.
"It's going to take time for first responders to begin rescue operations and to get the resources we've pre-positioned to people in need," he said. "So the more you can do to be prepared now -- making a plan, make a supply kit, know your evacuation route, follow instructions of your local officials -- the quicker we can focus our resources after the storm on those who need help the most."
Mr. Obama was scheduled to return from his vacation Saturday morning; the White House announced shortly after his remarks that he would fly back to the White House Friday night instead.
"The president simply reached the conclusion that it would be more prudent for him to be in Washington, D.C., and to be at the White House at the end of the day today," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.