- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. — Residents in this seaport city of nearly 7,700 people flocked to shelters and motels to escape high winds, blowing rain and the flooding caused by Hurricane Isabel, which made landfall 30 miles northeast of here yesterday afternoon.

“I decided to stay here because I knew it would be rough, and I’d be scared,” said Leona Jones, who arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Red Cross Emergency Shelter at West Carteret High School, where more than 300 people had come for shelter from the storm.

“If I had stayed home, I would have been tossing and turning all night, but I slept fine last night. And now I will just sit and try to do some crossword puzzles,” said Miss Jones, 50, who lives in nearby Beaufort.

Morehead City, on the southeast coast of North Carolina, is situated on the opposite bank of the Newport River from Beaufort. This Carteret County city is one of North Carolina’s deep-water ports and serves the 2nd Division of the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune.

By midday yesterday, more than 1 million North Carolina residents, including many in this small town just south of Cape Hatteras, were without power as a result of the Category 2 storm, which was packing 100 mph winds shortly before making landfall at 1 p.m. A tornado watch was in effect for the region until 8 p.m. last night.

President Bush yesterday declared a major disaster in North Carolina and ordered federal aid in the form of grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

Affected counties under Mr. Bush’s order include Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Edgecombe, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Martin, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington.

Sheila Wallace, who declined to give her age, said she was hoping things would be OK when she returned to her Morehead City home, but felt more secure inside the sturdy two-story brick school with hallways filled with sleeping bags, cots and lawn chairs, than in her trailer.

“I am just praying that we can go back to our homes and that we actually have homes to go back to,” said Ms. Wallace, who was joined by her son, Anthony, 3, who celebrated his birthday in the shelter.

Angela Stephens of Atlantic Beach — the tiny island directly across from Morehead City — said she was grateful the shelter was open because she knew she did not want to stay home, but had no idea what she would have done otherwise.

“The rich can stay in hotels and motels where they jack up the prices, but for those of us on fixed incomes we need these,” said Miss Stephens, 42, who is unable to work because of a disability.

The shelter at West Carteret, operated by the Red Cross in conjunction with the Salvation Army, served 280 hot breakfasts, and planned to stay open at least until later today.

“We’ve had no problems. Some kids were outside talking until 3 a.m., but by 4 a.m. everyone was asleep,” said Fred Wentworth, 64, volunteer Red Cross Shelter manager.

One man was taken to a hospital after suffering a seizure, and a woman who was 81/2 months pregnant was resting in the library for most of the hurricane.

Mr. Wentworth said the biggest problem was that the need was greater than the supply.

“If more people in this county would have volunteered their time and efforts, we could have opened more shelters. … At least here we have hot food,” he said.

Few motorists, other than police, journalists and military Humvees, traveled the roads in the area, which were strewn with leaves and broken tree limbs yesterday. Reports were not available yesterday of the estimated cost of damage to the town as a result of the storm.

The motels in the town were sold out, as many local residents preferred to not stay home but didn’t want to be far from home either.

Elizabeth Traner, the front-office manager at Best Western-Bucaneer Inn, said most of those staying at motel were locals, except for journalists, Salvation Army volunteers and electric company officials.

Weather forecasts had predicted anywhere from 4 to 10 inches of rain for the region, causing concern among many residents.

“This is worse than I have seen with some of the other storms that have come through here,” said Joel Becton of Marrimon, as he stood outside the front lobby of the Best Western.

“Our big fear is the flooding, I have no idea what I am going to find when I get home. I talked to some neighbors still there and they said it was bad.”

Looking across Atlantic Beach from her second-floor balcony, Linda Dawkins, 60, said, “Our home is right over there.”

“Our big concern is flooding. After [Hurricane] Bertha [in 1996], we came home and found electrical outlets in the basement sparking and everything we had was ruined.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said people and business owners may begin applying for assistance today by calling 800/621-3362.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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