Fierce Isabel Blows Toward Mid-Atlantic Coast

WASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2003 (ENS) - Hurricane Isabel is roaring across the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast packing sustained winds of 105 miles per hour with higher gusts, according to the National Weather Service. Emergency officials are rushing to evacuate people from coastal areas from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Chincoteague, Virginia.

Tropical storm conditions are expected to reach the coastline tonight, and the center of the hurricane is forecast to make landfall sometime on Thursday.


Hurricane Isabel (Photo courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
The center of the hurricane is located about 315 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina is moving north-northwest at about 14 miles per hour. The National Weather Service expects the storm to turn northwest and head straight for the coast with in increase in speed forecast before it hits land.

Storm surge flooding of seven to 11 feet above normal tide levels along with "extremely large and dangerous battering waves," is expected near where the storm makes landfall.

Storm surge flooding of four to eight feed above normal tide levels is expected in Chesapeake Bay and the tidal portions of nearby rivers.

Rainfalls of six to 10 inches are likely with greater amounts in certain locations, weather officials say.

Naval vessels based in Hampton Roads were ordered to get underway Wednesday, to avoid potential damage to ships and piers from anticipated hurricane force winds and high tidal surges. Ships currently underway will stay out to sea until Hurricane Isabel passes.

Vice Admiral Gary Roughead, commander of the U.S. 2nd Fleet, said the decision to move some 40 destroyers, frigates, and amphibious ships from Hampton Roads is based on concerns for the safety of sailors, and the preservation of the ships and associated equipment.


The guided missile frigate USS Elrod departs Naval Station Norfolk Tuesday ahead of Hurricane Isabel. (Photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg courtesy U.S. Navy)
Once it hits land, the hurricane is forecast to cut a swath through Virginia, western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. Then it is predicted to cross Lake Erie on Friday afternoon and move north into Ontario, Canada and points north on Saturday.

Trucks loaded with emergency supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) logistical center in Atlanta are on their way to North and South Carolina in advance of Hurricane Isabel. The trucks will deliver their cargoes to staging areas near the anticipated site of landfall.

Provisions include blankets, cots, plastic sheeting for roofing, drinking water, ice and generators. The generators will be used to support critical facilities such as emergency shelters, operations centers, hospitals, water treatment and sewage plants, and schools.

"Hurricanes are serious business and we urge residents to take Hurricane Isabel seriously," said Michael Brown, FEMA under secretary for emergency preparedness and response. "Please stay tuned to the news so you know what is happening and listen to recommendations or mandatory evacuation orders from your local officials."

While there is still time, FEMA recommends that residents bring in outside furniture and items that can become airborne during a hurricane's high winds. Residents at risk for flood should consider moving valuables to a higher level in the home. As hurricane winds strengthen, residents should ensure they have adequate supplies of fresh water. Residents can fill their bathtub with water, if necessary, the emergency agency advises.

During the hurricane, residents need to stay indoors, even during the calm as the eye of the storm passes overhead. This is only a lull in the storm and soon winds from the opposite direction will begin blowing. Stay away from glass windows and doors. If additional shelter is needed during the storm, residents should take cover in a "room within a room" such as a bathroom or even under a large, sturdy table.


Truck loaded with emergency supplies rolls away from the Federal Emergency Management Agency center in Atlanta. (Photo by Mark Wolfe courtesy FEMA)
"While hurricanes can be extremely frightening, try to remain calm," said Brown. "As a hurricane travels inland, it loses strength and residents will be out of the storm within hours. Federal state and local emergency response personnel and assets are ready to respond immediately."

In the nation's capital, federal offices will be closed tomorrow, but emergency personnel are expected to report to work.

Mayor Tony Williams has declared a state of emergency in the District of Columbia. The Metro transit system will be closed from 11 am Thursday, and all nonessential offices of the District of Columbia municipal government will be closed Thursday and Friday.

Governors and local officials of all mid-Atlantic states have declared states of emergency as the hurricane draws near.

Governor Ruth Ann Minner declared a state of emergency in Delaware effective Thursday morning as Hurricane Isabel continues to bear down on the mid-Atlantic coast. The emergency declaration includes activation of the Delaware National Guard for hurricane response.

Governor Minner ordered mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas, closure of public schools for the rest of this week, and she strongly recommends that people stay off the roads and businesses remain closed on Thursday and Friday.

“Given the latest information from the National Weather Service and its hurricane center, we believe that Delaware will experience sustained winds of more than 40 miles per hour with gusts of possibly more than 70 miles per hour. The rain that will accompany this hurricane is also expected to cause flooding across the state,” Governor Minner said.

Residents should be aware that streets and roads will likely be blocked by downed trees and utility poles, including live electrical wires, said the governor and warned people to be prepared to be without power or transportation for several days, and have food and other supplies, such as batteries, fuel and medical supplies on hand in case that occurs.

In Virginia, Governor Mark Warner this morning authorized mandatory evacuation for designated coastal jurisdictions in low-lying areas including the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.


Virginia Beach restaurant owners Art and Marcella Barry put up boards to protect their property from Hurricane Isabel. (Photo courtesy American Red Cross)
Late summer tourists have left the popular Virginia Beach boardwalk for safer ground. “People here have been saying we were due for a big one, and it looks like this is going to be it,” Marcella Barry told the Red Cross, as she and her husband boarded up the windows of their oceanfront restaurant. “Lots of people are planning on staying through the storm, but I don’t know, 100 plus mph winds are no joke.”

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley issued a proclamation today declaring a state of disaster and a state of emergency in North Carolina due to the approach and proximity of Hurricane Isabel.

“In anticipation of this storm, we activated the State Emergency Operations Center over the weekend," Governor Easley said. "They are currently staffed 24 hours a day and will remain operational as long as necessary to prepare for and recover from Isabel.”

“We are working to get the necessary equipment and supplies to areas likely to be impacted by Isabel,” said Easley. “This will allow for food, water, utility trucks and other emergency vehicles to get to the areas that they are needed most."

In South Carolina, a new emergency highway lane reversal plan will have its first stress test. In order to move evacuees out of coastal regions in a timely manner, lane reversals along certain interstate and primary routes may be necessary. But motorists are urged not to cross any highway median unless directed to do so by a law enforcement officer.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who is a coastal resident, said, "It's critical for folks living on the coast to remember that leaving early during the evacuation process is still the best way to stay safe and avoid traffic jams."

In coastal communities from the Carolinas to New Jersey, American Red Cross volunteers and staff are assisting families, businesses and individuals with hurricane preparations and emergency disaster plans. Red Cross Rapid Response team members are stationed throughout the region to launch a strategic disaster response once the storm makes landfall.

As part of the response, 100 Red Cross emergency response vehicles are staged, loaded with supplies, and ready to roll out to affected communities. An army of 500 Red Cross volunteers are also ready to deploy, with hundreds more on standby.

But, says the nongovernmental organization, although immediate, emergency assistance will be provided to all affected communities, the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund is empty. "From July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003, the organization spent $114.3 million while taking in only $39.5 million," the agency says. "The supply is just not keeping up with the demand, which could be the result of several factors, including a downturn in the economy."