East Coast Gears Up for Hurricane Isabel

East Coast Gears Up for Hurricane Isabel, Which Could Bring 130 Mph Winds As Early As Thursday.

MIAMI Sept. 15

Residents along North Carolina's Outer Banks were boarding up homes and moving boats inland, and government agencies from South Carolina to Massachusetts were making preparations Monday as powerful Hurricane Isabel headed for the East Coast.

Forecasters' computer models showed the Category 4 hurricane weakening during the next few days but still hitting the coast somewhere from North Carolina to New Jersey with 130 mph wind late Thursday or early Friday.

"It's hard to pinpoint one specific city when the storm is that far away," said Krissy Williams, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Computer models showed that weather conditions should prevent Isabel from turning back out to sea, said hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart.

At 5 a.m. EDT, Isabel's maximum sustained wind speed was at 150 mph 6 mph below the minimum for Category 5 and down 10 mph from 24 hours earlier. Fluctuation in strength is common to major hurricanes, forecasters said. Experts had said it would be extremely unusual for Isabel to maintain Category 5 strength as it moved north over cooler water.

The storm was centered about 820 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. and about 525 miles east of Nassau in the Bahamas. Hurricane-force wind of at least 74 mph extended 115 miles out from the center. Isabel was moving toward the west-northwest at about 10 mph.

Some coastal residents started taking precautions Monday, especially on North Carolina's vulnerable Outer Banks islands, where some boat owners already were moving their boats inland, said Judy Williams, a manager of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.

"We'll board up and secure the things outside," Williams said. "We've got some of the boards up already."

Emergency officials in the District of Columbia worked to obtain additional sandbags and planned meetings Monday with other department and critical services leaders.

"Then we're going to pray," said Peter LaPorte, director of Washington's Emergency Management Agency.

"We're gearing up right now," Delaware Emergency Management Director Jamie Turner said Monday.

Officials at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware met Monday to decide whether to move the base's fleet of giant C-5 cargo aircraft to bases out of the storm's path.

"Because of the size of the planes, it's got to be bases with very large air fields," said a base spokeswoman, Lt. Olivia Nelson.

Massachusetts was expected to miss the brunt of the storm, but state officials still were concerned about high wind and heavy seas.

"The bottom line is that if I were a mariner and I had to be doing my work, I'd be getting it complete by Wednesday night. I wouldn't want to be dealing with the swells out there," said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The last Category 5 Atlantic hurricane was Mitch in 1998, which killed about 11,000 people in Central America. The last two Category 5 hurricanes to strike the United States were Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969.

The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.