Union Tribune

September 18, 2003

Isabel expected to hit coast today
Hundreds of thousands evacuated


MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. Hundreds of thousands of people hastily evacuated coastal areas of Virginia and North Carolina yesterday as Hurricane Isabel, with 100-mph-plus winds, took aim at the mid-Atlantic coastline.

High winds and rain began whipping the North Carolina coast yesterday evening, and the storm was expected to hit land today.

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center predicted Isabel would strike North Carolina with sustained maximum winds of 110 mph, huge waves, rainfall of 10 inches or more and a tidal surge 7 to 11 feet above normal. It is expected to hit by early this afternoon between Cape Hatteras and Morehead City.

The storm could hit the nation's capital as it moves inland, and the federal government announced that its Washington offices would be closed today.

In Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner authorized mandatory evacuations in flood-prone areas of the Tidewater region. Following Warner's order, officials in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton City, Chesapeake and other places near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay ordered more than 70,000 people to evacuate to higher ground and opened shelters in public schools.

In Moorehead City, 137 adults and 55 children had taken refuge at a shelter by 6 p.m. yesterday. Red Cross volunteer Fred Wentworth was expecting that number to triple by Isabel's arrival today.

"When they decide it's too dangerous where they are, they'll be here," Wentworth said.

Rufino Martinez was one of several dozen Mexican immigrants in the shelter. They had left nearby low-lying areas where they work as wood finishers or fish processors.

"We live in a trailer park that is right next to the ocean," said Martinez, who put blankets on the hard vinyl floor.

Red Cross volunteer Rachel Fitzpatrick said that as Isabel approached, a rumor circulated through town that diehards who refused to evacuate the islands had been required to fill out a form designating who should be notified when they died.

"That's an urban legend. It never happened," said Mike Addertion, emergency services director for the county. "If they decide to stay, they're free to stay."

Addertion said his agency had evacuated 10,000 people yesterday from barrier islands, mobile home parks and low-lying areas around Morehead City, which is flanked on three sides by water.

Addertion fretted about the potential damage to his county.

"It will cause damage to roofs of houses, break windows, knock down trees and cause power lines to come down," he said.

Even as he considered his response to the expected damage, he took heart in noting that the storm's forward speed of 13 mph was greater than that of Hurricane Floyd, a killer storm in 1999. Floyd moved so slowly that it dropped 8 inches of rain onto ground that was already soaked from previous storms. That led to deadly flooding in inland rivers.

Yesterday, frequent radio reports warned area residents that falling power lines could leave them without electricity for up to a week. Meanwhile, a nationally known insurance company bought radio time to announce that its "catastrophe team is on the alert to move into action."

The mood was relaxed, though, among diners and drinkers at the Anchor Inn.

"This area is kind of used to hurricanes," owner Mike Lovoy said as he welcomed customers. "It becomes kind of a social event. It puts some excitement in the air."

The New York Times News Service contributed to this report.