TERENCE SMITH: The storm started to crash ashore late this morning, battering North Carolina beach towns, like Cape Hatteras, Atlantic Beach and Kitty Hawk. The howling winds downed area power lines and left more than 200,000 area residents without electricity. The gusts also tore off sections of roofs and fences, destroyed storefront windows, and hobbled the residents and journalists who ventured outdoors.
While most of the coastal population followed orders to seek higher ground, a few thousand holdouts remained.
JOHN MCCORMICK: We're staying. We have no problem. We're secure. We've got everything we need -- we've got a generator, we've got water in the tubs, plenty of water, plenty of beer and food for my Maggie girl.
MIKE MORRIS, Storm Chaser: This is a phenomenon you know with nature's beast here. Just riding it out, living through it, making it through it. It's excitement.
POLLY CONRAD, Atlantic Beach Resident: Actually it's a lot milder than Bertha. We did Bertha and Fran and all those. This is fascinating. It's not that bad -- winds aren't that bad.
TERENCE SMITH: Combined with high tides, Isabel's 5- and 6-foot storm surges caused substantial flooding.
By the time it is over, the National Hurricane Center expects 6 to 10 inches of precipitation in a part of the country already drenched from spring and summer rains.
The eye of the storm, and the heaviest winds surrounding it, hit the Carolina coast around 1 p.m. local time. By then, Isabel was packing sustained winds of 100 miles an hour -- clearly enough to do major damage, but down substantially from its peak of 160 miles per hour last weekend. By mid-afternoon, Isabel's maximum winds started to weaken.
TERENCE SMITH: This afternoon President Bush declared parts of North Carolina a major disaster area. A short time ago I spoke with the state's governor, Mike Easley, in Raleigh.
Governor, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. Tell us what the situation is in North Carolina this evening.
GOV. MIKE EASLEY: Well, we're about halfway through the storm if it continues on the same track. It is right now moving midway through Eastern North Carolina, and we expect it to be that way till 8 or 9 o'clock tonight, and we've seen an awful lot of storm surge flooding on the coast, a significant number of trees uprooted and down as far inland as Raleigh. As a result of that, we have about three-fifty to four hundred thousand households without power at this point, some flooding inland, flash flooding mainly from where the storm surge has pushed up the river as you come into Eastern North Carolina.
As a result of that, we're trying to keep people off the road and trying to ask people to be patient because we really can't get the crews out to get the power back on until after the storm has passed. So it's probably going to be in the morning before we're able to really get started there.
TERENCE SMITH: Governor, North Carolinians are certainly experienced when it comes to hurricanes. Characterize this storm for us with others you've experienced and how it measured up compared to what you expected.
GOV. MIKE EASLEY: Well, this storm is difficult to characterize just yet because we don't know what the back end of the storm was going to do. As you know, when the eye comes over after the eye wall hits, the wind shifts and it comes -- instead of coming from the North it's coming from the South. So we have to see what sort of damage we get there. I would say this looks more like the Hurricane Fran that we had. We're not going to see the heavy flooding that we had in Floyd. Fran was in '96. What we had there was a little bit more rain.
If the storm continues to move rapidly -- right now it's 18 miles per hour -- which is up from 9 miles per hour earlier -- then we won't get as quite as much rain as it moves through the state. But I would say at this time it's one that's going to cause a lot of damage, and it's going to create a lot of discomfort for people for a few days, but I do think we probably are better prepared than we've ever been to deal with the aftermath.
Also, we're losing some houses and motels are collapsing down on the outer banks, and we know that that is going to require a lot of clean-up. The president -- we certainly appreciate his prompt attention -- he and Secretary Ridge -- to giving us the disaster declaration; that's going to make a world of difference as to how quickly we can respond to the needs of the people here.
TERENCE SMITH: What does that do -- facilitate federal help and payments?
GOV. MIKE EASLEY: It does -- it does a couple of things. Number one, it lets the residents go in and call in for $5,000 damage to their homes, which will be the case in most instances, somewhere in there -- twenty-four or five thousand for personal property.
It let's them get in the process for the SBA [Small Business Administration] loan, if they need a loan to rebuild. But more importantly, it lets local governments begin to get that 75/25 match from the federal government for those undertaking some emergency measures they've already put in place and those that they're going to have to undertake over the coming weeks, and that 75 will be federal and 25 state, and that will make it a lot easier on us as we go forward in meeting the initial response.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you imagine that you can let people go back to their homes in those coastal communities tomorrow?
GOV. MIKE EASLEY: Well, I think some will be able to -- if the roads are clear and the flooding is no longer on the road, then, yeah, we can let some people who evacuate get in there, but the point I want to make with people is don't go back if the local officials say that you can't. The damage occurs or the injuries occur and the fatalities occur generally the day after or two days after the storm when people are out on the roads when they shouldn't be. They see a little bit of water on the road; they think it's a small puddle and the next thing they know it's a bridge that is out or they slip into a ditch on the side of the road that's six feet deep, and that's when fatalities occur.
Also those lines are down. As long as those power lines are down, we have to assume that every single one of them is live, every one of them is hot. That's the key. And if people understand that, they will keep their kids away from them; they will stay away from them; and we've got 1,000 additional crews in here to get those lines back up.
The Forestry Service is in place; I've got 1,000 National Guardsmen first thing in the morning, along with the state patrol, and we will be able, I think, to get people back in their homes very quickly.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Governor Easley, good luck to you and the people of North Carolina. Thanks for joining us.
GOV. MIKE EASLEY: Thank you, Terry.