Dedication of Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial postponed by hurricane Irene

The dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall has been postponed due to hurricane Irene. The dedication had been scheduled for Sunday, the 48th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, but will now take place sometime in September or October.

"In consultation with the National Park Service, the Mayor’s office and FEMA, it is with a heavy heart and enormous disappointment that we announce that, in the interest of public safety, we are forced to change our plans," Harry E. Johnson, Sr., president and CEO of the Washington DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, said in a statement.

The memorial will be open to the public on Saturday, weather permitting.

President Barack Obama was expected to speak at the dedication, and Aretha Franklin and Steve Wonder, among others, were scheduled to perform.
Officials had expected up to 250,000 people at the event.

The $120 million, four-acre memorial to Dr. King is the first memorial on the National Mall that does not honor a president or fallen soldier. The centerpiece of the memorial is a 30-foot-tall granite statue of the late civil rights leader. The Dr. King memorial is surrounded by monuments and memorials dedicated to presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The statue, called The Stone of Hope, was sculpted by Lei Yixin, a 57-year-old artist from China.

Rains from hurricane Irene began hitting the East Coast on Friday. On Friday afternoon, the storm looked like it would reach the coastal area of North Carolina with hurricane-force winds by late Friday or early Saturday. Residents and officials from the Carolinas to New England are bracing for power outages, flooding and other damage.

In New York City, nursing homes and hospitals in low-lying areas began evacuating Friday after an order by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, USA Today reports. The city plans to shut down public transportation at around noon on Saturday.

Obama issued a statement urging citizens on the coast to prepare.

"Don't wait. Don't delay," Obama said. "We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst."