- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Tropical Storm Hanna blew hard and dumped rain in eastern North Carolina and Virginia Saturday, but caused little damage beyond isolated flooding and power outages as it quickly headed north toward New England.

Hanna sailed easily over the beaches of Carolinas’ coast, and emergency officials were already looking past it to powerful Hurricane Ike, several hundred miles out in the Atlantic. With Category 3 winds of near 115 mph, Ike could approach Cuba and southern Florida by Monday, as Hanna spins away from Canada over the North Atlantic.

“Hanna is heading north in a hurry, leaving behind sunshine for the weekend,” said Myrtle Beach city spokesman Mark Kruea.

He said city services would be open and that “despite a week of preliminary hype” the storm didn’t have much of an impact on the city aside from a few downed trees and some power outages that were repaired in less than a half-hour. It was the same story in eastern North Carolina, where Hanna had top winds of around 50 mph after coming ashore around 3:20 a.m.

Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman at the N.C. Emergency Operations Center, said there are reports of some localized flooding, temporary road closures and scattered power outages, but that officials haven’t heard about too many problems.

“As the day goes on, I’m sure we’re going to hear more reports of flooding as people get out and get on the roads,” she said.

At least 1,500 spent the night in shelters and more than 60,000 customers – mostly around Wilmington, N.C. – were without power early Saturday in the Carolinas. In Virginia, 20,000 customers had no power. State police closed all northbound lanes of Interstate 95 just north of Richmond after power lines fell around 8:30 a.m.

And the Coast Guard closed all navigable waters in the Port of Hampton Roads, the lower Maryland Eastern Shore and the Port of Richmond, Va., on the James River.

Heavy rain fell in the Carolinas, including 5 inches in Fayetteville and the Sandhills region. The same was forecast for central Virginia, Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania, where some spots could get up to 10 inches. Forecasters warned of the potential for flash flooding in the northern mid-Atlantic states and southern New England.

“Fortunately it happened during the night, on the weekend. That would be a mess if it happened during the week as people are tying to get to work,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Blaes.

No rain fell to the west in Charlotte, where Tropical Storm Fay flooded streets and forced evacuations two weeks ago. To the east, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the stinging sand and sea spray didn’t keep 78-year-old William Cusick from getting up early to walk his dog on the beach.

“I don’t see anything too exciting about this – it’s not too serious,” Cusick said.

The wind started to kick in about 2:30 a.m. in Morehead City, said Don Ogle of Newport, the night manager of a motel in the city along North Carolina’s central coast. He said half of the motel’s day crew stayed overnight.

“I don’t know why. I’d go home if I could,” he said.

Hanna started drenching the Carolina coast Friday, with some street flooding by late afternoon. People on the beach had to shout to be heard. By the time it reached the coast, the storm’s top sustained winds had dropped to about 60 mph from near 70 mph while the storm was over water.

“All I’ve heard is wind, wind and more wind,” said 19-year-old Dylan Oslzewski, who was working an overnight shift at a convenience store in Shallotte, N.C., about 15 miles north of the state line with South Carolina. Oslzewski said he had only had four customers compared to 30 or 40 on a typical weekend night.

By early Saturday, the wind howled with gusts near 50 mph and rain came in blinding bursts in Myrtle Beach. The lights flickered several times along some beachfront blocks and the wind was so strong that it made waves in hotel pools. Several roads flooded at the peak of the storm, including U.S. 17 in Georgetown, which was shut down for several hours.

But nearly all the flooding was gone before daybreak, said Georgetown County Emergency Management Division spokesman Greg Troutman.

“We lucked out. There’s not much out there to report,” Troutman said after daybreak Saturday. “But it was good to dust off the ol’ emergency plan.”

The storm also was causing some travel headaches. Raleigh-Durham International Airport canceled a few dozen flights Saturday morning. Amtrak idled 10 trains, including the Silver Meteor between New York and Miami, and the Auto Train between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla.

Hanna raced up the Atlantic coast, set to leave North Carolina by midday. Rain had started and the surf was picking up on the shore in New Jersey, and Hanna should reach New England by Sunday morning.

Tropical storm watches or warnings were issued from the Carolinas to Massachusetts, and included all of Chesapeake Bay, the Washington, D.C., area and Long Island. The storm has been blamed for disastrous flooding and more than 100 deaths in Haiti.

Expectations of heavy rain forced NASCAR to postpone Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series race to Sunday afternoon at Richmond International Raceway.

Organizers of the U.S. Open in New York said they may have to reschedule some of the tennis matches after seeing forecasts calling for about 12 hours of rain and wind up to 35 mph.

For all the talk of Hanna, there was more about Ike, which could become the fiercest storm to strike South Florida since 1992 when Hurricane Andrew did more than $26 billion damage and was blamed for 65 deaths.

To prepare for Ike that could hit the U.S. by midweek, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was positioning supplies, search and rescue crews, communications equipment and medical teams in Florida and along the Gulf Coast – a task complicated by the hurricane’s changing path. Tourists in the Florida Keys were ordered to leave beginning Saturday morning.

Mike Baker reported from Nags Head, N.C. Associated Press writers Estes Thompson in Morehead City, N.C., Kevin Maurer in Wilmington, N.C., and Jeffrey Collins in Myrtle Beach, S.C., contributed to this report.

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