RODANTHE, N.C. (AP) — Cars, recreational vehicles and sport utility vehicles streamed inland from North Carolina’s Outer Banks yesterday as more than 90,000 people were urged to get out of the way of Hurricane Isabel.
Isabel’s winds weakened during the day to about 105 mph from a weekend peak of 160 mph. But forecasters said the hurricane could strengthen when it crosses the warm water of the Gulf Stream on a projected course that could take it straight into the Outer Banks early tomorrow.
Holly Barbour, a vacationer from Wheeling, W. Va., said she and her family planned to head south to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“Yesterday was so nice, we couldn’t believe that a storm was coming,” she said. “A lot of people were saying they were heading out when they told us to evacuate. So we’re going to do the same.”
Coastal residents from South Carolina to New Jersey boarded up homes and businesses and stocked up on batteries, water and other supplies.
North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley declared a state of emergency, allowing him to use the National Guard and seek federal disaster relief after the storm passes.
Thousands of tourists and others abandoned parts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks as rough surf pounded the thin, 120-mile-long chain of islands. But some weather-tested residents treated the evacuation orders as mere suggestions.
“It’s easier to stay on the island,” Margie Brecker said as she and her husband boarded up their Christmas shop in Rodanthe and made plans to hunker down. “That way, we are right here when it’s time to clean up, and we’re able to help others.”
At 11 p.m. EDT yesterday, Isabel was about 520 miles southeast of North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras, moving northwest at about 8 mph. It was down to a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale of intensity, from Category 5 during the weekend.
A hurricane watch was posted from Little River Inlet, S.C., to Chincoteague, Va., including a large part of the Chesapeake Bay.
About 6,000 military personnel and their families on or near Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., were ordered to leave.
“If it was a 5, I’d be gone. If it was a 4, I’d be gone. But right now, it’s looking like a 2 or less,” said David Kidwell, a 64-year-old retiree who is staying put at his home in Kitty Hawk, N.C. “That’s just nothing more than a big nor’easter as far as I’m concerned.”
National Hurricane Center meteorologist Eric Blake said people should not let their guard down even though the storm was weakening.
“Hurricanes are notorious for gaining strength as they cross the Gulf Stream,” he said. Even at a Category 2, “there’s still a lot of potential for danger.”
After reaching land, Isabel could spread storms from North Carolina all the way to the New England states.
The last major hurricane to threaten the Mid-Atlantic Coast was Floyd in 1999. It came ashore near Cape Fear, N.C., and continued along the coast into New England, causing 56 deaths and $4.6 billion in damage.
Navy ships manned by 16,400 sailors headed out to sea from Norfolk and Earle, N.J., to ride out the storm and keep from being battered against their piers. Military aircraft were flown to airfields inland.
In Atlantic City, N.J., Miss America pageant officials said they were prepared to postpone the Boardwalk parade, scheduled for Friday, and even the pageant, set for Saturday, if necessary.