- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2003

Hurricane Isabel got “a little better organized” yesterday, churning westward over the Atlantic on course to hit the Southeastern coastal states by week’s end, the National Weather Service said.

“Maximum sustained winds are near 150 mph with higher gusts,” the service said, noting that “some slight strengthening is possible during the next 24 hours.”

The service described Isabel as “still very powerful” despite being downgraded from a maximum-intensity Category 5 to a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.

While computer simulations have the hurricane turning toward Georgia and the Carolinas during the next five days, forecasters remained uncertain yesterday whether it will hit the United States.

Meanwhile, Southeast residents following Isabel’s developments and planning to board up their houses are facing near all-time high prices for plywood, according to a report by the Associated Press.

“There probably is going to be sticker shock for a few people,” Ron Jarvis, vice president for lumber for Atlanta-based Home Depot, told the news agency, which reported some lumber companies are paying double what they were for plywood earlier this summer.

The shortage and subsequent price spike are the result primarily of the home-building boom this summer and of wet weather that’s made it hard to harvest logs, according to the Associated Press.

Traveling westward yesterday at about 10 mph along a course about 400 miles north of Puerto Rico, Hurricane Isabel was on trajectory to reach the U.S. coastline between Virginia and Florida by Thursday, according to the weather service.

“Large ocean swells and dangerous surf conditions are likely over portions of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic over the next several days,” the service said.

Authorizing nonemergency personnel to leave the Bahamas, the State Department has issued a travel warning advising U.S. citizens against visiting the islands because of the damage that could be caused by Isabel.

“If staying in the Bahamas, locate shelter, monitor media reports and follow all official instructions,” the travel warning said. “Visitors to the Bahamas should return to their hotels or cruise ships for further information and instructions.”

Two weeks ago, Hurricane Fabian, a Category 4 hurricane, ripped through the Mid-Atlantic, causing heavy damage to buildings and homes in Bermuda. According to some reports, nearly a quarter of Bermuda’s hotels and guest houses were still without electricity this week.

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