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.

In Baltimore, the storm blew down three buildings that would have to be demolished and downed trees and utility lines. The storm knocked out generators at two water treatment plants and a sewage treatment plant in neighboring Anne Arundel County.

County Executive Janet Owens urged residents to be patient and conserve water until power was restored.

``Putting it bluntly, please don't flush,'' Owens said. ``It buys us some time.''

The storm spared much of North Carolina the kind of flood damage is experienced from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The storm flooded some low-lying areas and knocked out electricity for hundreds of thousands, but it didn't appear to pack the same destructive punch as Floyd, which left 56 dead and a wide swath of the state underwater.

On isolated Ocracoke Island along the Outer Banks, about 15 people gathered at Howard's Pub to ride out the storm.

``Isabel's eye passed right over us,'' said Buffy Warner, the pub's owner. ``It was so dramatic. The rain was actually driving horizontally with these incredibly dark skies and no visibility. Then, within about 60 seconds, the sky became bright white.''

A utility employee in North Carolina was electrocuted while restoring power. Most of the other storm-related deaths were from falling trees or car accidents. A man in Rhode Island drowned after he was swept into the ocean by a giant wave while walking along the shore.

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.

In Warren County, N.J., police evacuated 168 residents of a Salem County nursing home when water rose in the Delaware Bay around 3 a.m., state police said. Residents were taken to two local shelters.