- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

East Coast beaches are bracing for Hurricane Isabel. At its best, the storm will result in minimal beachfront damage and lost business from canceled events and deserted towns. At its worst, Isabel could wipe out entire beach resorts in her path.

“The impact is not a small one,” said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Optimal Solutions Group, an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore. “Even if the storm were to switch course and have no impact on [the beach resorts], there’s already going to be an economic impact.”

Visitors already have canceled plans and residents are temporarily moving out.

“It’s a lost weekend,” Mr. Basu said. “It’s not the case that retailers and other businesses [at the beach towns] will recoup these lost dollars.”



Officials in targeted areas have been tracking the storm for days and have made decisions regarding evacuation and cancelations accordingly.

Ocean City has canceled its annual Sunfest — a four-day festival that draws more than 200,000 to the beach town in the off-season.

The event, which was scheduled to begin tomorrow, has never been officially canceled in its 29-year history, according to Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for Ocean City’s Department of Tourism. Sunfest brought in about $2.3 million to Ocean City in 1999, the last year a study was done on the festival’s economic effect, she said.

“It’s a disappointment, but we’ll pick up the pieces and move on,” Ms. Abbott said. “When you’re dependent on the weather, you have to adjust. Right now we’re battening down the hatches.”

Stephen Fuller, professor of public policy at George Mason University, said Isabel could have had a much worse effect if it had come earlier in the summer.

“Generally there’s going to be some loss of business, but it’s not as damaging as if it happened the last week in August or Labor Day weekend,” he said.

But despite being in the off-season, businesses that rely on year-round residents will face a drop in sales.

Areas like the Outer Banks in North Carolina, including Ocracoke Island, have been ordered to evacuate in anticipation of Isabel. But officials are still hoping for the best.

“We’ve been lucky over the last few years, but there is potential for damage [with Isabel],” said Angie Brady-Daniels, vice president of public relations at the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce. “Everyone’s preparing.”

She said it’s too early to tell how much of an economic effect the storm will have on the North Carolina beachfront. Officials in targeted areas are holding out hope that Isabel will die down when she hits land.

In the past, hurricanes have wreaked havoc up and down the East Coast causing billions of dollars of damage.

Isabel is the first major hurricane to threaten the mid-Atlantic since Floyd hit in September 1999, causing about $5 billion in damage and leading to 56 deaths.

Hurricane Andrew, however, is still the country’s most expensive natural disaster. The storm — which hit land twice in August 1992 —caused an estimated $26 billion in damage and resulted in 26 deaths.

Economists agree that the aftermath of a devastating storm can have a positive effect on the economy.

“The rebuilding tends to be a stimulus to the economy,” Mr. Fuller said.

For example, Andrew, which coincided with the recession in the early 1990s, resulted in emergency spending that helped “kick-start the economy,” Mr. Fuller added. The cleanup created jobs and new investments.

“Sometimes these devastating storms can make the economy look stronger once it’s passed,” Mr. Basu said. “If damage is done, the rebuilding effort begins almost immediately.”

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