Easley said weather estimates show that the eastern part of the state may see up to 8 inches of rainfall when Hurricane Isabel hits land sometime early Thursday morning. He urged residents to evacuate low-lying coastal areas.
"Now is the time to prepare," he said. "The course andintensity of this storm may change very quickly."
In addition to declaring a state of emergency, Easley also signed an executive order that will allow trucks to carry heavier loads for longer hours on North Carolina highways. By signing that order, power companies will be allowed to bring in equipment that may be needed to restore power to certain areas.
Easley said the state suspended regular scheduled ferryservice to isolated Ocracoke Island and other ferry routes operatedonly as conditions permitted.
The National Hurricane Center posted a hurricane watch fromLittle River Inlet, S.C., to Chincoteague, Va., including Pamlicoand Albemarle Sounds and a large part of Chesapeake Bay. A watch means an area could face hurricane conditions within 36 hours.
Forecasters said Isabel appeared to be on a course to hitThursday on the North Carolina coast and move northward througheastern Virginia. Large swells and dangerous surf already werebeing felt along the coast.
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the center of the hurricane was located nearlatitude 27.8 north, longitude 71.4 west or about 570 milessouth-southeast of Cape Hatteras.
Isabel was moving northwest near 8 mph and a general motion toward the northwest or north-northwest was expected during the next 24 hours with some increase in forward speed. It is now considered a Category 2 storm. On Sunday, Isabel's wind had hit 160 mph, making it a Category 5 storm.
Isabel's winds weakened during the day to around 105 mph from apeak of 160 mph over the weekend. But forecasters said thehurricane could strengthen when it crosses the warm waters of theGulf Stream on a projected course that could take it straight intothe Outer Banks early Thursday.
Traffic surged off the Outer Banks islandchain Tuesday as nearly 100,000 people were urged to evacuate theNorth Carolina coast before the arrival of Hurricane Isabel, whichhad weakened but remained a dangerous storm on a track toward land.
Officials in Currituck County have issued amandatory evacuation order for its portion of the Outer Banks.
Although no evacuation order has been issued for the Currituckmainland, citizens and visitors are being advised to prepare forpossible evacuation.
Residents of the Outer Banks, whichincludes Hatteras Island, were asked to leave, but Dare County spokeswoman DorothyToolan said people wouldn't be forced to leave.
Carteret County officials also have ordered a mandatory evacuation of both banks of Emerald Isle, low-lying areas and mobile homes effective 7 a.m. Wednesday. This is not an evacuation of the entire county.
A day earlier, residents of Ocracoke and Bald Head islands were ordered toevacuate.
"We do have some fire departments in municipalities that willvisit neighborhoods and encourage people, but we don't have anykind of law enforcement knocking on doors, forcing people toleave," Toolan said.
Thousands of vacationers and residents left Outer Banks onTuesday but traffic was moving smoothly. With the storm weakening,many residents appeared ready to stay put.
Officials said they were concerned about ocean flooding along NC12 on Hatteras Island. The road is the only one south of OregonInlet.
Thousands of tourists and others abandoned parts of NorthCarolina's Outer Banks as rough surf pounded the thin,120-mile-long chain of islands. But some weather-tested residentstreated the evacuation orders as just a suggestion.
"It's easier to stay on the island," Margie Brecker said asshe and her husband boarded up their Christmas shop in Rodanthe andmade plans to hunker down. "That way, we are right here when it'stime to clean up, and we're able to help others."
About 110,000 people were urged to evacuate the Outer Banks. Andabout 6,000 military personnel and their families on or nearLangley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., were ordered to leave.
"If it was a 5, I'd be gone. If it was a 4, I'd be gone. Butright now it's looking like a 2 or less," said David Kidwell, a64-year-old retiree who is staying put at his home in Kitty Hawk."That's just nothing more than a big nor'easter as far as I'mconcerned."
National Hurricane Center meteorologist Eric Blake said peopleshould not let their guard down even though the storm wasweakening.
"Hurricanes are notorious for gaining strength as they crossthe Gulf Stream," he said. Even at a Category 2, "there's still alot of potential for danger."
After hitting land, Isabel could also spread heavy rain fromNorth Carolina all the way to the New England states.
The last major hurricane to threaten the mid-Atlantic coast wasFloyd in 1999. The Category 2 storm, with 110 mph winds, cameashore near Cape Fear, N.C., and continued along the coast into NewEngland, causing 56 deaths and $4.6 billion in damage.
Navy ships manned by 13,000 sailors headed out to sea fromNorfolk, Va., and Earle, N.J., to ride out the storm and keep frombeing battered against their piers. Military aircraft were flown toairfields inland.
In Simpson, N.C., a man preparing for Isabel accidentally burnedhis home down Monday when a generator he was testing caught fire.
In Atlantic City, N.J., Miss America Pageant officials said theywere prepared to postpone Friday's Boardwalk parade and even thepageant itself on Saturday, if necessary.
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson prayed on his ChristianBroadcasting Network, based in Virginia Beach, that Isabel wouldturn from the coast. He asked God to put a "wall of protection"around Virginia Beach and the East Coast.
"In the name of Jesus, we reach out our hand in faith and wecommand that storm to cease its forward motion to the north and toturn and to go out into the sea," Robertson prayed on "The 700Club."
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