Thousands Urged To Evacuate As Isabel Approaches
Governor Creates Hotline For Storm Assistance
POSTED: 12:35 PM EDT September 17, 2003
UPDATED: 3:16 PM EDT September 17, 2003
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. -- Traffic streamed inland from the vulnerable Outer Banks on Wednesday as thousands of residents and visitors alike headed for higher ground ahead of approaching Hurricane Isabel. Thousands more were ordered to evacuate in Virginia.
Isabel was a strong Category 2 storm Wednesday, with sustained wind near 110 mph and higher gusts, weakened from the weekend when it had 160 mph wind and held the top Category 5 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
Forecasters predicted little change in strength before Isabel, the biggest storm to hit the region since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, makes landfall Thursday morning somewhere along the Outer Banks, the thin, 120-mile-long chain of islands.
"Right now, the forecast calls for it to maintain the intensity it's at currently," meteorologist Bill Read said at the National Hurricane Center.
A 7- to 11-foot storm surge was expected near the area where the center strikes the North Carolina coast, with a 7-foot surge likely inside southern Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, the hurricane center said.
About 100,000 people along the North Carolina coast had been told to evacuate.
"Even a lot of old salts are bailing out," Brian Simmons said as he placed plywood across the window of Stoney's Seafood in Avon. "I don't know if it's some vibe they feel or something."
The evacuation had been steady and orderly but authorities said that was because many people were waiting to see later forecasts before heading out.
About 180 miles up the coast, people busily boarded up windows on Virginia's Chincoteague Island.
"I love storms, and people are just freaking out," said Carol Patton, manager of Don's Seafood Restaurant at Chincoteague. "They're panicking, saying we're going to get it really bad. I've never seen the town boarded up like it is today."
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner on Wednesday authorized local mandatory evacuations of vulnerable low-lying areas. Virginia Beach and Poquoson officials did so immediately, affecting about 37,000 people in Virginia Beach and Poquoson. About 6,000 military personnel and dependents at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., had been ordered to leave.
"People recognize this is the real deal. This is, in terms of predictions, perhaps the worst storm we've seen in decades," Warner told reporters Wednesday.
Governors of North Carolina and Maryland also had declared states of emergency. Officials in Pennsylvania and Maryland were concerned about the threat of flooding after a wet summer as the storm plows northward.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency Tuesday, allowing him to use the National Guard and also seek federal disaster relief after the storm passes.
On Wednesday, Easley addressed the state and urged residents to take caution as Hurricane Isabel is certain to hit North Carolina's coast.
"Now is the time to prepare," he said. "The course and intensity of this storm may change very quickly."
Easley said most injuries and fatalities "don't occur in the storms. They occur the day after."
The governor also announced a hotline to provide information and assistance to residents affected by the storm. The number is (888) 835-9966.
More than 9 inches of rain was forecast for parts of Pennsylvania, and hurricane center director Max Mayfield said heavy rain could extend all the way to New England.
Officials were "very fearful" of the storm's potential rainfall in West Virginia's hilly and already saturated Eastern Panhandle. Up to 12 inches is possible in Morgan County, said county emergency service director Dave Michael. He planned to recommend that schools be closed Friday.
"There's just nowhere to put the water," said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. Municipal workers filled sandbags in Washington, D.C.
ISABEL CHURNS 350 MILES OFF COAST
At 2 p.m., Isabel was centered about 350 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras and was moving toward the north-northwest at about 11 mph, the hurricane center said. Some increase in forward speed was expected during the next 24 hours, it said.
A hurricane warning was in effect from Cape Fear in southern North Carolina northward to the Virginia-Maryland state line, including much of Chesapeake Bay. Tropical storm warnings extended northward to Sandy Hook, N.J., and southward along the South Carolina coast to South Santee River.
In the middle of Chesapeake Bay, most of the 295 residents of Maryland's Smith Island packed up and left for the mainland, but 50 to 60 stayed behind.
"I've been here 65 years, I've never left for one yet. I was here for Hazel when the eye came right over the island," said waterman Eddie Evans, 65, sitting on a dock Wednesday after tying down his crab pots.
Seventy-eight patients were evacuated from a nursing home at tiny Sealevel, N.C., which is literally at sea level on Core Sound north of Cape Lookout. Many of the patients at the Carteret General Hospital home are in early stages of Alzheimers, and the staff's preparations included taking along movies that the residents are accustomed to watching.
"We're just going on a little vacation," nursing assistant Michelle Sanderling reassured 80-year-old Jane Condon as she was loaded onto an ambulance. "Everything's going to be alright."
FLOOD WATCH ISSUED FOR EASTERN N.C.
The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for coastal portions of eastern North Carolina. The watch is in effect until Friday morning.
Forecasters say heavy rain is expected over eastern North Carolina late Wednesday night through Thursday evening as Hurricane Isabel affects the area.
Amounts up to 10 inches will be possible, mainly along and east of the track of the storm. Rainfall rates of several inches per hour are likely in heavier squalls and could produce flooding.
The weather service says persons in or near flood prone areas should be prepared to take action if rising water threatens. Travel is being discouraged.
NO TRAFFIC PROBLEMS SO FAR
The state Highway Patrol says there were no traffic jams Wednesday morning, but a spike in activity is expected as people flee the path of Hurricane Isabel.
Sgt. Everett Clendenin says the brought 100 troopers to the Raleigh area to be dispatched to trouble spots. He says it's expected that some of those will be sent to northeastern North Carolina to handle the expected traffic flow off the Outer Banks.
Clendenin says there was an increase in traffic Tuesday starting at lunchtime, and the patrol expects more traffic later Wednesday.
SALES OF PLYWOOD, OTHER BUILDING MATERIALS, SOAR
As North Carolinians are urged to make final preparations for Hurricane Isabel, home improvement stores are seeing a rush to their shelves.
Tom Taylor, a regional president for The Home Depot, says Kitty Hawk was extremely busy before today. He says people have been driving inland to get supplies such as plywood, generators and chainsaws.
Taylor says stores have been busy from Wilmington north to Richmond and Virginia Beach.
Meanwhile, officials at Lowe's set up a command post in Wilkesboro, where a team of about 15 employees is dispatching supplies to areas where the demand is highest. The team can track hundreds of truckloads of goods.
Lowe's vice president Greg Forester says there's customer demand from Wilmington up to the Maryland-Delaware area. About 100 Lowe's stores are affected by the increased demand for emergency supplies, and Lowe's estimates it's sold 10,000 generators in the past nine days.
OUTER BANKS HOSPITAL TO SHUT DOWN
Outer Banks Hospital says it's going to close its doors Wednesday afternoon in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Isabel.
Patients have already been evacuated to hospitals in Chesapeake, Virginia, and Elizabeth City.
Only the emergency room is open, but it will be closed as well. People who need emergency care will have to wait, since the hospital is the only one on the islands.
CLASSES CANCELED AT UNCW AS ISABEL GETS CLOSE
Hurricane Isabel is giving students at UNC-Wilmington a long weekend.
Officials say the school will order a voluntary evacuation for students at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Classes will be canceled through Friday, and the school will be closed on Thursday for faculty and staff.
Closings as of Tuesday:
All schools in Hyde, Currituck, Dare counties closed until further notice
Chowan College closed until Monday
District Court in Currituck County closed through Friday
State Parks: Jockey's Ridge State Park and Bear Island at Hammond Beach State Park; reopening to be determined
Raleigh-Durham International Airport is open, but passengers are asked to call their airlines
Scheduled for Wednesday:
All visitors and campers will be evacuated from the following state parks at noon: Hammocks Beach, Merchants Millpond, Fort Macon, Carolina Beach, Fort Fisher, Pettigrew, Goose Creek, Cliffs of the Neuse, Singletary Lake, Lumber River, Jones Lake and Lake Waccamaw.
Nine additional state parks and recreation areas in the Piedmont and Sandhills regions will close at 8 p.m.: Weymouth Woods, Raven Rock, Medoc Mountain, William B. Umstead, Eno River, Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, Kerr Lake and Morrow Mountain.
Operating hours Thursday for military and civilian personnel, Fort Bragg schools and childcare facilities and all other scheduled events will be determined before close of business Wednesday.