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San Diego Emergency, Aid Groups Monitor Irene

Emergency officials and aid groups in San Diego plan to monitor the impact of Hurricane Irene to see if any local help is needed on the East Coast, officials said today.

The hurricane is expected to make landfall in North Carolina Saturday and head north, skirting Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. Low-lying areas of the East Coast are being evacuated.

Maurice Luque of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department told City News Service his agency will watch this weekend's events and respond if called.

The SDFRD has sent teams to help after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and other disasters.

Diana Starnes of San Diego-based International Relief Teams, said her group is also monitoring the situation.

"We're not really sure where it's going to hit shore yet," Starnes said. "It's a watch, wait and see type of thing."

The IRT still sends volunteer construction teams to Mississippi to work on homes damaged by Katrina, nearly six years after the event.

If Irene does cause serious damage, the need for construction crews would be months off, she said, adding there could be an immediate need for medical volunteers if a lot of people are injured.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a Hurricane Warning extending up to southern New England. As of 2 p.m. Pacific time, Irene had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.

Tropical storm effects could be felt all the way to Maine. Such big storms often bring a deluge of rain long after making landfall, and some areas of the Northeast -- already saturated from summer storms -- could be hit with flooding.

President Barack Obama called Irene an "extremely dangerous" storm and urged residents in its projected path to heed evacuation orders. He and his family are leaving Chilmark, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard, on Saturday, ending a vacation.

Brittany Gotschall, of the American Red Cross, San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter, said it will be up to ARC chapters at the scene to call in reinforcements.

The first efforts to help will come from nearby chapters, and then calls will go out for specialized assistance, Gotschall said.

She said ARC groups in the Midwest have already sent supplies to the East Coast.

"At the moment, we're standing by to see what's needed," Gotschall said about the San Diego chapter.

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