Tropical Storm Isabel Kills Six, Firefighters Among Those That Respond

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.

``My wife's been calling me on the cell phone all day. ... The power's been off,'' said Hokies fan Lee Wagstaff, whose wife and dairy farm were deep in Isabel's path in Clarksville, about 100 miles away on the North Carolina border.

Why wasn't Wagstaff at home? ``Hey, it's a Tech ball game, man!''

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

Up to a foot of rain was possible in West Virginia's hilly Eastern Panhandle and 6 to 9 inches was forecast for parts of Pennsylvania.

President Bush declared major disasters in North Carolina and Virginia, ordering federal aid to both states. The governors of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware declared state emergencies.

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 north, 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 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.''

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