Friday, September 5, 2008

Southeast braces for Hanna as Ike strengthens


WILMINGTON, N.C. - Some Southeastern states declared emergencies and officials urged residents to head inland Thursday as Tropical Storm Hanna headed toward the Atlantic coast, where it could bring high winds and rain from South Carolina to Maine.

Meanwhile, disaster planners eyed ferocious-looking Hurricane Ike strengthening in the Atlantic. And with power outages and problems from Hurricane Gustav lingering in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and relief groups found themselves juggling three storms.

Rain and wind from Hanna could start as early as Friday night in the South, where some residents shuttered houses and stocked up on food and sandbags, coastal parks closed, and schools canceled events and changed sports schedules. Tropical storm watches and warnings were issued from Georgia to near Atlantic City, N.J.

Forecasters expected Hanna to strengthen only slightly before making landfall early Saturday, though hurricane watches remained for much of coastal North and South Carolina.

The governors of Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley urged residents to pay attention because Hanna's path could change.

"No, you're not in the clear if you're not in the track we talked about today," he said. "You're in the clear after the storm goes through and didn't bother you."

In South Carolina, Gov. Mark Sanford urged people to leave flood-prone areas and mobile homes in two northern counties by Friday afternoon.

Still, some scoffed at the storm that has killed at least 137 people in Haiti. Instead, they turned to Ike, a Category 4 hurricane approaching the Bahamas. FEMA was sending hundreds of truckloads of meals, water and other supplies to the East Coast but also leaving resources on the Gulf Coast in case Ike heads there.

"Ike looks like it's a very, very dangerous storm," said FEMA Administrator David Paulison.

The latest storms come on the heels of Gustav, which had some Louisiana residents still without power and living in shelters several days later.

In 2004, Paulison, then the preparedness director of FEMA, said three major hurricanes in just over a month strained but did not ultimately hobble the agency's resources and staffing.

On Thursday, FEMA officials said they had sent teams to Louisiana to deal with Gustav while others planned for Hanna.

FEMA's head of disaster operations, Glenn Cannon, said FEMA had deployed 700 ambulances for Gustav and was moving many east toward Florida.

He said Ike looks like Hurricane Andrew did in 1992 before it killed 23 people and did $26.5 billion in damage in Florida. But he warned not to look past Hanna.

"Everybody's a little tired right now, and, I think, would like to look past Hanna, and we know Ike has us all concerned," he told The Associated Press. "But Hanna can jump up and bite us."

The American Red Cross also was moving supplies, equipment and people. The organization was borrowing money to cover Gustav expenses that could reach more than $70 million and expects to go deeper into debt as it prepares for the other storms, said Red Cross vice president Joseph Becker.

Hanna chugged just east of the Bahamas Thursday with winds near 65 mph. At 11 p.m. EDT, its center was 540 miles south of Wilmington, N.C., and was moving northwest at 14 mph.

A tropical storm warning, meaning tropical storm conditions were expected within 24 hours, was issued from the Savannah River in Georgia to the North Carolina/Virginia border.

A hurricane watch was issued for Edisto Beach, S.C., to the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the Virginia border. Tropical storm watches were issued from the North Carolina/Virginia border to Great Egg Inlet, N.J., and from the Savannah River south to Altamaha Sound, Ga. Watches mean conditions are possible within 36 hours.

In North Myrtle Beach, S.C., few homes were boarded up, but vacationers hastily packed bags.

"We've seen people boarding up today and the Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead and decided it was time to go," said James Collins, of Cadillac, Mich.

Emergency managers in New England also planned for Hanna, which could hit this weekend with heavy rain and strong winds. In Providence, R.I., workers cleared storm drains and stocked up on sandbags and residents were urged to buy supplies.

"If nothing else it's a good dress rehearsal for Ike if Ike were to come," said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

In Kure Beach, N.C., Jimbo Andrews nursed a soda while bartender Kassie Jones made plans for a Friday night hurricane party. Andrews said he keeps hurricane supplies at his house and planned to leave if Ike hit.

And Hanna? It looked to get him out of some yard work.

"No sense in going to the trouble when you got a storm coming," he said.


Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson, Estes Thompson and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh; Page Ivey, Susanne M. Schafer and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C.; Jeffrey Collins in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C.; Ben Evans and Eileen Sullivan in Washington; and Karen Testa in Boston contributed to this report.

Source: AP - Yahoo.Com

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