FEMA Cautions Residents; Isabel Claims at Least 15 Lives

Hurricane Isabel knocked out power to more than 4.5 million people before weakening into a tropical depression Friday as it raced toward Canada, swamping some tidal communities along Chesapeake Bay but breezing inland with less rain than expected.


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Hurricane Isabel knocked out power to more than 4.5 million people before weakening into a tropical depression Friday as it raced toward Canada, swamping some tidal communities along Chesapeake Bay but breezing inland with less rain than expected.

The storm was blamed for at least 15 deaths: nine in Virginia, two in Maryland and one each in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

The storm plowed into North Carolina's Outer Banks on Thursday with winds of about 100 mph and moved across Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania early Friday as its winds eased to around 35 mph - just below the threshold for a tropical storm. Isabel dumped up to 4 inches of rain in Pennsylvania before moving toward Ohio, and was expected to dissipate in Canada by Saturday.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Isabel inflicted the worst damage along the Outer Banks.

``Our concern down there is we have about 4,000 people who refused to evacuate. We're getting in to make sure they're OK,'' he said on ABC's ``Good Morning America.''

In Baltimore, 34 people were rescued from their homes, some by boat, in a neighborhood where waist-high water flooded some streets, Mayor Martin O'Malley said.

The federal government shut down for two days. Offices, monuments and subway tunnels in Washington were all but abandoned, frustrating tourists. Some were surprised that monuments and museums were closed Thursday, hours ahead of the storm.

FEMA's Brown cautioned that residents in Isabel's path should keep their guard up, with flood waters moving into tributaries throughout the day. ``So people just because they see blue skies should not think, 'Oh this storm is gone and the aftermath is over with.'''

With mid-Atlantic states left sodden by an unusually wet summer, the winds toppled trees and rains flooded creeks and low-lying areas.

In Middletown, N.J., Isabel sent a tree crashing through the roof of Jean Paul Zammit's house.

``It was a just a big bang and crack, and the ceiling falling down and everything falling down,'' said Zammit, who was sitting in his living room when the roof caved in.

At 11 a.m. Friday, Isabel was 50 miles northeast of Cleveland, moving north at around 30 mph.

As much as 5 1/2 inches of rain fell on West Virginia - far less than the original forecast of a foot. Flood advisories for parts of the state were canceled.

``It was not as bad as it could have been,'' Rob Jelacic, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services, said Friday morning.

In Virginia alone, more than 1.5 million people lost power by late Thursday and more than 16,000 people filled evacuation shelters. Six people were killed in a pair of weather-related traffic accidents in the state; two were killed by falling trees. One man drowned while canoeing.

``Virginians need to realize that they're in for a tough couple of days,'' said Gov. Mark R. Warner.

Some of the worst flooding on Thursday was along the Chesapeake Bay, where an 8.2-foot storm surge sent water into low-lying areas, particularly Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Along the York River in Gloucester County, authorities rescued eight people stranded on a small island surrounded by raging currents. Water around the island started to recede Thursday, lessening the danger to others who remained stranded.

Streets were flooded in Alexandria's colonial Old Town district in Virginia.

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.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said flooding, whether from storm surges on the Eastern Shore or heavy rainfall, was ``the No. 1 danger.'' Officials said 1.25 million customers were without power in the state.

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