YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Misery and Loss in Isabel's Wake

The storm is blamed for 18 deaths and power losses affecting millions along the East Coast.

September 20, 2003|Rennie Sloan and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The remnants of Hurricane Isabel lurched into Canada on Friday, leaving a sodden legacy of misery and inconvenience from the Carolinas to the mid-Atlantic states.

Utilities warned that it could take longer than a week to fully restore power to about 4 million customers still without electricity, mainly in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.

The storm was blamed for at least 18 deaths, several of them in traffic accidents. President Bush declared North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland federal disaster areas, clearing the way for low-cost loans and other reconstruction aid.

In Maryland, the waterfront cities of Baltimore and Annapolis were battling floodwaters that temporarily turned neighborhood streets into rivers.

A seawall was not enough to keep the Baltimore communities of Fell's Point and Inner Harbor from the reach of the Chesapeake Bay. Some residents in both cities used boats to get around Friday.

"We never thought we'd have enough sandbags to hold back the Chesapeake Bay," said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, "and that's what we're dealing with now."

Almost 200 people had to be rescued. Water flooded downtown hotel rooms. At the Baltimore Museum of Industry, much of the collection was underwater, officials said.

By Friday morning, Isabel had weakened to a tropical depression, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Maximum sustained winds were near 35 mph at 11 a.m. EDT, when the center issued its final public advisory. By midday Friday, Isabel had moved into Canada.

In Craven County, N.C., Brooks Stalnaker and his wife, Carol, mourned the loss of their home on the banks of the Neuse River. The house, which had survived several hurricanes in the 19 years the Stalnakers owned it, disintegrated in Isabel's 100 mph winds. The couple had gone to a neighbor's home during the storm.

"My wife started crying, and I said, 'Don't cry,' " said Stalnaker, 72, who had yet to begin sifting through wood scraps and rubble for family belongings. "I've got a safe and a wallet someplace, and the rest of it I really don't care, it's just too much to think about."

But the Outer Banks in North Carolina and Virginia's heavily populated Tidewater region took the biggest hits, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. In the Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands where the Wright brothers first flew, sections of the main highway washed away, power was out and communities were cut off.

In Havelock, N.C., the Frazier family stood in a daze on the grounds of a small church cemetery. The white casket of Willie Frazier Jr., who died three years ago, sat in a clump of bushes. The storm had wrested it from the raised-brick Frazier grave site.

"I don't know, I just feel sad, I'm worried," said Frazier's widow, Arnersey. The family had been advised to wait for a health department crew to place the casket back in the tomb.

Next to the grave site, inside the tiny St. Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, wooden pews and carpets reeked of mildew from the flood waters.

Hundreds of miles to the north, at another burial ground, Arlington National Cemetery, members of the 24-hour military honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns were given leave to seek shelter during the storm. But they chose instead to keep their vigil.

Damage in Washington was mainly limited to hundreds of uprooted trees, some of which fell into houses and on power lines.

The Capitol and the White House were spared any harm, officials said, as were most of the old trees on the grounds of the two national landmarks.

"We did not lose a single tree that was planted by a president," said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius. However, a linden tree on the North Lawn of the White House was knocked down. Along the White House fence, families and couples posed for pictures against a backdrop of downed tree limbs.

Arne Dugstad, a hardy Norwegian visiting Washington for the first time, was unimpressed by Isabel. "I had expected worse," said Dugstad, who was staying with friends. "We lost electricity, had to cook on the fireplace. That's not so scary."

The federal government remained closed for a second day, but museums were open and public transportation service resumed.

Across the Potomac River, the Colonial river port of Alexandria, Va., saw heavy flooding as water from Isabel surged upstream Thursday night.

More flooding was possible as rainfall made its way from the Appalachian Mountains to the coast.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better," said Alexandria Mayor William Euille.

Problems with travel were expected to linger into the weekend. Between midnight Wednesday and midnight Thursday, the Transportation Department reported, 6,847 flights were canceled.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport reopened Friday afternoon, and airlines were working to reschedule stranded travelers.

Los Angeles Times Articles