Hurricane Irene Leaves Flooding, Power Outages in Northeast

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FEMA mobilized six urban search-and-rescue teams, which all remain in staging areas. Fugate said state and local teams in North Carolina "have already completed 67 swift-water rescues where they've actually had to go out in boats and get people that had been trapped or cut off by the storm."

While Hurricane Irene weakened as it moved up the East Coast, moving from a Category 2 storm on Friday to a Category 1 storm by the time it reached land, Fugate said the storm still poses a threat through continued heavy rain and potential tornadoes.

"People tend to think, well, if it's not a Category 4 or 5, we're not going to have a lot of impacts," Fugate said. "The category of the storm really doesn't have much to do with rain… Very big storm like Irene, we're getting a lot of reports of heavy rain. We've already had flash-flooding."

Fugate, who served as director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management from 2001 through 2009, said that federal response efforts to major hurricanes has improved after the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We shouldn't have to wait until a state is overwhelmed to begin getting ready, that we should be able to go in before the governor's made a request, have supplies ready, have our teams in the state, and work as one team, not waiting for damages to occur and that formal request to come," Fugate said. "So we've learned to really work as one team, not as separate levels of government, and to put everything together early before the storm hits."

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