Governors in North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia declared states of emergency, mobilizing National Guard forces to help with rescue and relief efforts. President Bush is expected to approve federal aid for cleanup and recovery efforts.
Isabel was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved across land Thursday night and its winds dipped below 74 mph. Still, the storm dealt a devastating blow to the region.
“It was no Fran or Floyd, but for the folks who have trees in their living rooms, that’s little comfort,” said North Carolina emergency management department spokesman Mark Van Sciver, comparing Isabel to past hurricanes.
Coastal North Carolina, where Isabel made landfall, seemed to have the most wind and storm surge damage.
Most of the reported deaths occurred as people tried to drive during the storm and crashed due to poor visibility, high winds and flooded roads.
An estimated 4.4 million residences and businesses lost power as the storm spun through North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Ninety-two percent of Dominion Virginia Power’s customers lost service.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner asked residents to be patient, saying restoration of power could take days.
Flooding was reported in many coastal and tidal river areas as high tides, winds and the storm surge sent water over sea walls and dikes.
The swollen Potomac River poured 5 feet of water into downtown Alexandria, Va. Flooding was also reported in Annapolis, Md., and parts of Washington, D.C.
Isabel dumped most of her rain on the region’s mountains and more flooding is expected in the coming days as runoff continues to flow into rivers and streams.
Residents in some parts of Northern Virginia were told to boil their drinking water after water filtration systems were knocked offline.
Both of the major Washington, D.C.-area airports were shut down during the storm and not scheduled to begin flights until early afternoon Friday.
The federal government also shut down normal operations Thursday and Friday, requiring only essential personnel to report for duty.
The Washington area transit system halted all buses and trains beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday. The system started running again at limited capacity in the early hours on Friday.
Washington’s emergency management chief, Peter LaPorte, said downed trees and power lines will make traveling dangerous and urged residents to stay home.
“Don’t let curiosity be the death of you,” LaPorte said. “If you don’t need to come to the city, please do not. It really doesn’t make sense today to put yourself in harm’s way. We have a lot of work to do.”
The storm system that was once Hurricane Isabel is expected to continue weakening as it moves through Pennsylvania and eventually into Canada.