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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September, 2003, 03:32 GMT 04:32 UK
Isabel worries Washington
BBC News Online's Rachel Clarke
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

Local television has reproduced the track of Hurricane Isabel as predicted by the National Weather Service on its own map. The red line of its possible route goes right through the star showing Washington, DC.

Satellite photograph from US National Weather Service showing Isabel heading towards the US East Coast
The path of the storm is unusual
The approaching storm became the lead item on the local news over the weekend, even though it was still hundreds of miles and several days away from land.

Isabel's sheer size - it was rated as the strongest-possible Category Five system though it has weakened lately - was more than enough to cause concern with threats of powerful winds, pounding waves and torrential rain.

But its possible target zone of the mid-Atlantic states brings added problems. Weather-wise residents in Florida and other southern states are more used to hurricanes and have window shutters, emergency supplies and a storm plan all ready.

That is not the case in Washington, where forecasters are warning that city-dwellers could face the worst winds in nearly 50 years since Hurricane Hazel blasted its way through the capital in 1954, even though Isabel will have made landfall earlier.

Add that to a possible storm surge of nine or ten feet (2.7-3.0 metres) of water pounding up the Potomac River and there are reasons to heed the warnings to stock up on torches, batteries, sandbags and even tinned food.

City of concern

Elsewhere in the region, people were getting their boats out of the water or laying down sandbags around their homes.

But in the city, all that office workers could do was head to the hardware store in crowds not seen since homeland security chief Tom Ridge warned Americans to put together do-it-yourself terrorism survival packs including plastic sheeting and strong adhesive tape.

See the predicted path of Hurricane Isabel

Once again it is good business for the out-of-town superstores and even the smaller neighbourhood shops like Candey Hardware on 18th Street NW, which seems to have a slightly incongruous position across the street from designer clothing stores.

At lunchtime the place was packed and a long queue of people was waiting to pay for their supplies.

So far most people have been buying the torches and batteries being recommended for every home by politicians and newscasters.

One of the assistants, John, said extra supplies had been ordered to cope with what the shop expects to be growing demand, whatever the latest evidence of the storm's path or strength.

"It's always panic here in DC... this is like the snow thing or the terrorism thing," John said.

"People come in, they've heard something and they want to be prepared. We're busy."

Send your pictures of Hurricane Isabel to:

The BBC's Ian Pannell
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