Local News

Isabel Leaves 1 Million People Without Power

Posted September 18, 2003 8:26 a.m. EDT

— Hurricane Isabel

plowed into North Carolina's Outer Banks with 100 mph winds Thursday and pushed its way up the Eastern seaboard, swamping roads and knocking out power to more than one million people.

As of 9 p.m., the latest figures showed 80,000 people without power in Wake County. Progress Energy reported a total of 282,000 outages, and Duke Power reported 118,973.

The majority of Duke Power's outages were in the Triangle and Triad areas of North Carolina. There were more than 39,000 outages reported for both Durham and Guilford counties, and nearly 21,000 outages in Orange County.

Outages continued to increase on the North Carolina electric cooperative system. The electric cooperatives, the primary electric suppliers in the rural parts of the North Carolina, reported 119,972 consumer-members without power as of 9 p.m. Thursday. Nineteen of the state's 27 cooperatives had suffered outages.

Dominion Power, which services Virginia, reported more than 1,434,768 outages as of 9 p.m. Thursday.

The storm that only days earlier threatened 160 mph winds and a 12-foot storm surge rolled in around midday Thursday. It made landfall just south of isolated Ocracoke Island with a five-foot surge and gusts that rattled plywood boards spray-painted "Bring it on Izzy."

"A lot of trees are down -- there's one down across the garage," Rudy Austin said as he looked out on his yard in Ocracoke surrounded by a knee-deep soup of sea water and debris. "There's a lot of stuff floating around: boards and buoys and boxes and young'uns' plastic toys."

Despite downed trees, snarled air traffic and widespread power outages, there were no immediate reports of any deaths or widespread flooding.


National Hurricane Center

Director Max Mayfield said fast-moving Isabel still posed a threat because of its dimensions -- about the size of Colorado --and its potential to bring six to 10 inches of rain and flooding to an East Coast already sodden from one of the wettest summers in years.

"This is certainly not over for people experiencing Hurricane Isabel," he said. "This hurricane will not be remembered for how strong it is. It will be remembered for how large it is."

There were isolated areas of damage and distress on the Outer Banks. The storm tore apart two beach houses in Nags Head, picking up the washer, dryer and refrigerator and carrying them about 500 feet down the street.

Wind blew out the windows of a storm shelter near Elizabeth City, injuring five people hit by flying glass. In the community of Harlow, just inland from the coast, rescue teams were dispatched after about 130 people were trapped by floodwaters, possibly in their own homes.

The storm spread rain across North Carolina and Virginia and into Maryland, Delaware and parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Isabel's top sustained wind eased to nearly 90 mph after it hit land, and it was expected to continue weakening. Hurricane-force wind -- at least 74 mph -- extended up to 100 miles out from the center.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the center of Isabel's "very large eye" was over North Carolina's Pamlico Sound, between the mainland and the Outer Banks. It was moving northwest at around 24 mph.

It was expected to move north across Virginia and cut through western Pennsylvania and western New York state before dissipating in Canada by Saturday.

Rhonda Davis, whose parents had to be airlifted from their home in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd killed 56 people, said she was not convinced Isabel would leave eastern North Carolina unscathed.

"When something like this happens, I don't care what it is, you prepare for the worst," she said. "I don't think it's going to be bigger than Floyd, but I think it's going to be larger than what people think."

Up to a foot of rain was possible in West Virginia's hilly Eastern Panhandle, and six to nine inches was forecast for parts of Pennsylvania.

President Bush granted North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley's request for a federal disaster declaration, ordering federal aid to the state.

In anticipation of flooding and wind damage, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell issued a statewide "disaster emergency" declaration. The governors of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware had earlier declared emergencies, and the governor of New Jersey planned a declaration Thursday.

Well over 1,500 flights were canceled at airports in the major eastern cities, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. As the storm moved northward, all flights to and from the Washington metropolitan area's airports were likely to be canceled, he said.

The federal government shut down in Washington. Amtrak halted service south of Washington, and the Washington-area Metro system shut down all subway and bus service.

Miss America pageant organizers went ahead with the plans for their annual parade Friday night in Atlantic City, N.J., hoping the boardwalk would escape damage.

For many, the hurricane's passing was merely a sightseeing event.

"For me, this is just like another little rainstorm, but you take what you can get," storm chaser Warren Faidley said as he videotaped the frothy, 15-foot swells on Atlantic Beach, N.C.

He was impressed that in the middle of the hurricane, he was able to get a hot sausage biscuit at a pier right on the beach.

"Hot food during the hurricane," he said, chewing away. "This is the most gentlemanly chase of all times."