JEFFREY BROWN: Throughout the day, coastal communities up and down the eastern seaboard made last-minute preparations for Hurricane Isabel's arrival. As the storm closed in on the North Carolina coast, with winds topping 110 miles per hour, a hurricane warning stretched from Cape Fear, North Carolina, north to Chincoteague, Virginia. Satellite images from above showed the storm's massive size, while on the ground, more than 130,000 --230,000 people were ordered to evacuate barrier islands and low-lying coastal areas of North Carolina and Virginia. Authorities said the evacuations seemed to be proceeding orderly. But while many headed for higher ground, some residents in Virginia Beach decided to take their chances.
WOMAN: I've lived here all my life and I've never missed a storm. They're real exciting, I love 'em.
JEFFREY BROWN: The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland have declared states of emergency. This morning, North Carolina governor Mike Easley issued this warning:
GOV. MIKE EASLEY, North Carolina: Once the winds begin, tropical force winds begin early this evening, the time for preparation will have passed. It is critical that residents on the coast and in Eastern and North Carolina understand that, and that they complete their preparation today and this afternoon.
JEFFREY BROWN: Isabel's approach prompted the navy to send 40 ships and submarines from Norfolk, Virginia, out to sea to ride out the storm, and move warplanes from several bases to safety inland. Amtrak cancelled some train service in the mid-Atlantic region; airlines warned of disruptions. In Washington, Congress cancelled all legislative business, and city officials prepared to shut down the subway and bus system Thursday. This afternoon, signs that Isabel's on her way were evident on North Carolina's shores, where the storm is expected make landfall early tomorrow, with the storm surge expected to reach up to 11 feet. A short time ago, I talked with Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Mr. Mayfield, just in the last hour, I've heard of some slight weakening of the winds. What can you tell us?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, I wouldn't make too much out of that. There is still a very strong category-2 hurricane, that measures the same winds of 105 miles per hour, greater than 110 miles makes it a category-3 hurricane, so we need to take this very seriously. This has the potential to cause extensive damage and loss of lives if we're not prepared.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the storm is expected to hit North Carolina first, then what are you seeing about its path?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, the tropical storm-force winds of this large hurricane will likely be approaching the North Carolina coast sometime near midnight. The conditions will deteriorate, they'll likely have hurricane- force winds by early tomorrow morning. The center will be near the north Atlantic coast, around noon tomorrow, but this system will continue moving north, northwestward, and then turn to get through eastern Virginia, Maryland, the extreme eastern portion of west Virginia, all the way up through Pennsylvania and New York, and into Canada by Saturday.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you've defined a category-2 hurricane for us. Tell us what kind of damage you're fearing.
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, I'm sure that we need to consider all the hazards: The storm surge; the strong winds; the heavy rains; and the chance of tornadoes. Typically, with a storm category 2, you'll have some trees blown down, you'll have roofing damage, you'll have some wind or door damage. We're really concerned with the storm surge flooding. In fact, if you look at the picture behind me here, you can see the outer banks of North Carolina. We're forecasting seven to eleven feet of storm surge near and to the north of where the center crosses the coast, and actually, we're even forecasting four to eight feet of storm surge up to Chesapeake. So they have not had a hurricane coming in perpendicular to the coastline like this in a long, long time.
JEFFREY BROWN: Can you give us the definition of "storm surge"? Because we hear that over and over again. What exactly does it mean?
MAX MAYFIELD: It means that this is the abnormal rise in sea level near and to the north of where the center crosses the coast. The simplest way to understand this is if you're six feet tall and you have seven to eleven feet of storm surge, you have a problem. So no matter how well built your house is, if you are on the outer banks of North Carolina, or in these areas, even the sand side, the sound, they could have very high values of storm surge in these areas, and even that Greater Hampton road area there, we're really concerned about that if they do get the four to eight feet of storm surge in that area. They will also have the extremely dangerous breaking waves on top of that.
JEFFREY BROWN: And beyond the eye of the storm-- you talked about the large area this will hit-- but how big an area do you expect to be affected in the end?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, this graphic shows the area of hurricane force winds, which is primarily confined to the eastern portion of North Carolina, southeastern Virginia, but the blue shows the area of tropical storm-force winds; that storm spread all the way out from eastern North Carolina, up into new jersey, the eastern portion of Virginia, all the way to Pennsylvania by Friday afternoon, and then eventually up into Canada.
JEFFREY BROWN: And briefly, is... it is still out of guess work, or is the technology very sophisticated now that you can track this very well?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, we just took a look back the last five days, and I think our five-day forecast is within about 100 miles or so. So far, we're doing very well, but let's wait until after it makes landfall before anybody declares victory here.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, Max Mayfield with the National Hurricane Center, I know it's a very busy day for you. Thank you for joining us.
MAX MAYFIELD: Thank you, sir.