KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (AP) -- Hurricane Isabel plowed into North Carolina's Outer Banks with 100 mph winds and pushed its way Thursday up the Eastern Seaboard, weakening to a tropical storm by evening but not before swamping roads and knocking out power to more than 2.5 million people.
Isabel was blamed for at least four traffic deaths, the death of a man struck by a falling tree, and the electrocution of a utility employee.
The storm that had once threatened 160 mph winds and a 12-foot storm surge rolled in around midday just south of isolated Ocracoke Island with a 5-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.''
The storm downed trees, snarled air traffic and knocked out electricity - more than 2 million customers were without power in North Carolina and southeastern Virginia alone. More than 430,000 customers in Maryland, 78,000 in the District of Columbia and 10,000 in New Jersey also lost power.
In North Carolina, a utility employee was electrocuted while restoring power, and in Virginia a man was killed by a falling tree. The storm was also blamed for the deaths of three motorists in Virginia and one in Maryland.
Isabel's top sustained wind eased to around 65 mph by late evening and was expected to to continue to weaken.
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 3 to 5 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.''
The storm spread rain across North Carolina and Virginia and into Maryland, Delaware and parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In Harlowe, a small community about 25 miles inland from the Outer Banks, about 30 to 40 homes were destroyed, either by winds, falling trees or flooding, said Jeremy Brown, chief of Harlowe's volunteer fire department. He estimated about 200 homes were flooded.
Firefighters rescued a mother and her two children who were stranded by the flood waters, Brown said. But the flooding receded quickly, said resident Joe Fernandez, who watched the water rise over his street and yard.
``It was like a toilet flushing. It just came up and went down,'' Fernandez said.
On the Outer Banks, the storm destroyed the 540-foot Jennette's Pier in Nags Head and at least two beach houses, where storm surge picked up a washer, dryer and refrigerator and carried them about 500 feet down the street.
In York County, Va., sheriff's deputies rescued a family of seven trapped on a street when trees fell and blocked the path to their car, county spokesman Greg Davy said. The family had driven to the York River and gotten out of their car to ``experience the excitement,'' Davy said.
At 11 p.m., Isabel was about 35 miles west of Richmond, Va., moving northwest at around 23 mph, up from 14 mph Wednesday evening when it approached the coast.
The increase in speed is not unusual, and could mean lighter rain and less flooding, said Chris Sisko, a meteorologist at the hurricane center.
``They'll still have flooding issues over the next day or two, but the faster motion is at least a more positive impact,'' Sisko said.
The hurricane couldn't keep football fans away from Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium, where the Hokies were playing Texas A&M.
The 65,115-seat stadium was sold out, even with rain that soaked through parkas and wind that bent back umbrellas. Gusts of up to 50 mph were expected for the game in Blacksburg.