Chaos as Americans flee Hurricane Isabel

The US mid-Atlantic coast appeared bleak and desolate early on Thursday as Hurricane Isabel pummeled the shore sending thousands scrambling for higher ground.

    Hurricane Isabel is due to hit Washington on Thursday

    Packing winds of 170km per hour, the storm

    was expected to hit land on Thursday at around 1600 GMT and

    sweep up the East Coast in the direction of the US capital


    The storm's path of destruction could touch 50 million people

    nationwide, according to the US Census Bureau.

    "All preparations to protect life and property should be rushed

    to completion in the hurricane warning area," the Miami-based US

    National Hurricane Center warned.

    The edges of the storm were already unleashing 65-80km

    per hour winds, torrential rain and towering waves on

    the North Carolina coast



    Emergencies were declared in North Carolina, Maryland and

    Virginia states.

    Authorities ordered the evacuation of more than

    225,000 residents from low lying islands just off the coast of North

    Carolina and Virginia.

    Washington, which is also in Isabel's path, also ordered


    Federal agencies will be closed on Thursday and only

    emergency employees are be expected to work.

    The House of Representatives was shutting down and the Senate

    was closing early, while the White House said it was "working to

    secure items that may be blown away".

    Transport and other services warned of closures.

    Residents flee

    Navy ships sailed into the Atlantic to ride the storm out, and

    scores of military planes were flown to sheltered bases around the


    Many North Carolina residents
    are preparing to flee Hurricane

    Commercial flights were cancelled or rerouted to safer



    In the beach resort of Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers

    flew their first plane 100 years ago, most residents had boarded up

    and left town earlier on Wednesday.

    "Most people are being smart, they're making plans to evacuate,

    getting their last belongings," firefighter Cole Yeatts said.

    "We're orienting them toward shelters, but a lot of them are going

    to stay with family and friends."

    Forecasters were predicting 3.5m storm surges and

    25cm of rain in coastal areas before Isabel

    moves northwewst late on Thursday.

    Federal disaster

    North Carolina Governor Mike Easley said he will ask President

    George Bush for a federal disaster declaration releasing federal

    aid for the cleanup.

    And he warned all will not be well when Isabel

    blows over.

    "The most important thing I can ask people to do is consider

    every downed wire a hot wire," he said.

    "Keep in mind most

    injuries occur not during the storm but after the storm."

    Isabel is a strong Category Two storm on the Saffir-Simpson

    scale, which goes up to five.

    It can cause flooding, overturn mobile

    homes and damage roofs and windows on houses.



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