- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Washington-area officials made further preparations yesterday for Hurricane Isabel by buttressing riverbanks and Metro stations with sandbags while residents along the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic beaches prepared for evacuation orders.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority began placing 10,000 sandbags at flood-prone escalators and at bus and rail stations.

Crews also monitored pumping stations and prepared to cut down trees that could be toppled onto the rails. The sandbags may also be piled around low-lying rails because floodwater could disable the electric cables that power the trains, said Paul Gillum, the agency’s plant-maintenance director.

Officials in Frederick, Md., might use sandbags if floods threaten reservoirs and a wastewater pond.

Alexandria officials ordered crews to fill 3,000 sandbags for distribution today in anticipation of flooding that typically occurs in the Old Town neighborhood along the Potomac River.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, had already declared a state of emergency Monday, putting National Guardsmen, state police and transportation crews on full alert and activating National Guard troops.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, had not declared a state of emergency as of last night. But Ocean City officials canceled the food stands and arts-and-crafts sales at Sunfest, the resort’s annual event to attract visitors in the fall. Sunfest is held under four big-top tents that would be vulnerable to high winds.

Donna Abbott, resort spokeswoman, said the entertainment acts have been moved to the Convention Center. “The owners of the tents were concerned that the tents would not hold,” she said.

The Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association reported some cancellations but had no official numbers. After an especially slow summer, resort merchants looked forward to the anticipated 100,000 visitors.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge that connects Annapolis to the Eastern Shore will be closed if winds reach 50 mph.

Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore announced it will close at 5 p.m. today and remain closed through Friday. Many Hampton Roads-area colleges and universities also announced they would close today for the remainder of the week. Old Dominion University, Christopher Newport University and the College of William & Mary canceled classes and ordered students to leave campus after the residence halls close today.

Hotel rooms in the Carolinas and Virginia were still available yesterday but filling up quickly because vacationers, including many from the coastal city of Wilmington, were moving inland.

Anirban Basu, chief executive of Optimal Solutions Group, an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore, said even a small storm will have an economic impact because visitors will still have canceled their vacations, which will hurt hotels and restaurants.

Isabel’s winds had slowed from 160 mph to 105 mph as of yesterday evening, but forecasters said the Category 2 hurricane still packs heavy winds, lots of rain and damaging swells.

The storm is expected to make landfall tomorrow morning and move through eastern Virginia. Overhead swells were already hitting near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse yesterday, said an employee at Natural Arts Surf Shop in Buxton, N.C.

Last night, the storm was 545 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras and moving at about 8 mph.

Isabel is the most serious hurricane to threaten the Mid-Atlantic since Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, which caused 56 deaths.

Insurance companies are sending adjusters and other resources to North Carolina and have stopped writing some policies. Allstate Corp. is restricting new auto- and home-insurance sales in the coastal Carolinas and coastal Virginia.

Amtrak customers riding along the East Coast this week can alter plans without penalties. The company canceled a few passenger and auto trains with departures today and tomorrow, as well as a Washington-bound passenger train leaving from Chicago today. And some northbound trains will originate in the District instead of Richmond. No airlines had announced cancellations as of yesterday afternoon.

The Navy continued with plans to move the Atlantic Fleet out to sea from Norfolk so the ships would not be battered against the piers. The Air Force also started flying airplanes from coastal bases to inland fields.

Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission began releasing water from Rocky Gorge Reservoir into the Patuxent River near Laurel to make room for floodwater. About 1.5 billion gallons will be released before Isabel arrives.

Food and Friends, a nonprofit organization, is asking for volunteer drivers to help deliver 3,600 meals, including nonperishables, to residents with life-challenging diseases such as HIV and AIDS. Call 202/863-1824.

Virginia Beach-based religious broadcaster Pat Robertson asked his Christian Broadcasting Network viewers to pray with him so that God would put a “wall of protection” around the city and the East Coast.

“In the name of Jesus, we reach out our hand in faith and we command that storm to cease its forward motion to the north and to turn and to go out into the sea,” he prayed on “The 700 Club.”

Virginia Beach officials, meanwhile, issued a declaration of emergency and planned to open some shelters late today.

• Donna De Marco, Marguerite Higgins, Tim Lemke and Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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