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Hurricane Isabel’s Wake

September 19, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Relief and recovery efforts began early this morning in coastal North Carolina, where Isabel caused the most destruction. The storm first hit the barrier islands, known as the Outer Banks, midday yesterday. This morning, priority number one was the safety of those who chose to ride it out.

MICHAEL BROWN, Director, FEMA: Our concern is we have 4,000 people who refused to evacuate. We’re trying to make sure they’re okay, and trying to rescue them. We’ve sent some urban search- and-rescue teams into that area because we’ve had some building collapses and homes severely damaged. So right now, we’re primarily doing life-sustaining efforts.

KWAME HOLMAN: Scores of homeowners on the North Carolina coast saw their property battered or destroyed by the 100-mile-per- hour winds. And just about everyone in the area is dealing with flooding and power outages. While Isabel did far less damage than did Hurricane Floyd in 1999, it was harrowing enough for these residents.

BUD MALLOGEN, Nags Head Pier Worker: I couldn’t even walk out the door. I was getting hit by sand, and everything would get in your eyes. And when I saw freezers and parts of the restaurant from the pier house laying in the parking lot, then that’s when I said, “I’m not going out the door anymore.”

JANE BURTON, Manager, Owen’s Motel: I had to abandon my car, and spent the night with someone I don’t even know their last name up in Nags Head. And then a policeman brought me back here this morning to face this.

KWAME HOLMAN: Similar conditions were evident just up the coast, at tourist spots in Virginia. A third of the 4.5 million customers who lost power to Isabel live in the state. Much of damage is in the city of Norfolk. The NewsHour’s Betty Ann Bowser is there.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Norfolk, the full force of the hurricane hit last night about 5:00, flooding the downtown streets. The hardest hit area of the city was Ocean View, a resort community along the Chesapeake Bay, where Isabel tore entire fronts off of houses. Netty Sabir lived downstairs in this duplex. Although she evacuated for the storm, she’s lost everything, and today is homeless.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you have any clothes left or… I mean, is anything left from your apartment that you can use or…? Everything’s destroyed.

NETTY SABIR: Yeah, all my clothes. I can’t worry about what we lost. I got to worry about where we’re going.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Joan Creighton lived upstairs. She was in the house when the hurricane hit.

JOAN CREIGHTON: Oh, yeah, that was my front door. And I went to get out the door, but because the foundation of the house had been shaken, the door wouldn’t come open. It was jarred in there. So I had to open my window and climb out the window.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The window right up there?

JOAN CREIGHTON: The window right there.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And that’s how you got out?

JOAN CREIGHTON: That’s how I got out. But the bad thing about that is that once I got out, the balcony was about to go, too.

SPOKESPERSON: What you need to do is register, and they’ll ask for your name and…

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Red Cross volunteer Jody Alprerin is trying to help both women find a place to go. Norfolk city officials say they have no idea how many people lost their homes in the storm, and they say the process of assessing damage could take many days.

KWAME HOLMAN: Just south of Norfolk is Virginia Beach, which boasts a brand new $125 million sea wall. Its first test was Isabel. The wall succeeded, preventing widespread flooding, property damage, and beach erosion. Virginia Governor Mark Warner:

GOV. MARK WARNER, (D) Virginia: This shows the kind of protection that’s been put in place to make sure that we would protect the city, protect the communities and businesses from a hurricane, and it worked.

KWAME HOLMAN: Following its northwesterly path through Virginia, Isabel downed thousands of trees in the Richmond area, and contributed to at least six traffic-related deaths statewide. By the time Isabel hit the Washington, D.C., Area last night, the storm had weakened substantially. Just outside Washington, in old town Alexandria, the Potomac River swelled ten feet above normal this morning. Still, one restaurant owner planned to be back up and running tonight.

MAN: We got ready last night. We took everything off the floor. A couple of refrigeration units shorted out and probably an air conditioning unit; that’s about it.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the nation’s capital, federal workers and students were off for a second straight day. At dawn, as half the city awoke without power, utility workers began clearing away fallen trees.

WILLIAM SIM, President, Pepco Power: I know what everybody wants to know is, when will power be restored? I understand that. Unfortunately, with the storm of that magnitude, it’s very difficult to estimate, at least until we get a total damage assessment later today.

KWAME HOLMAN: To the north, Baltimore, Maryland, suffered severe flooding as well. This morning, waterfront homes and streets were submerged under five feet of tidal flooding, which Governor Bob Ehrlich calls the state’s number-one danger. Baltimore rescue crews removed three dozen people from flooded homes. But while the storm itself is out of the way, emergency officials expect residual flooding effects for the next several days.