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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
US braces for hurricane's arrival
North Carolina coach
Coastal areas are being battered by high seas
Last-minute emergency preparations are taking place as Hurricane Isabel closes in on the eastern coast of the United States, bringing heavy rain and strong winds.

Tens of thousands of people have left their homes and US Government offices in Washington DC are closed for the day. President George W Bush is at Camp David in Maryland.

Local train and air services have been disrupted and international flights from the UK to Washington and Baltimore have been cancelled.

Torrential downpours and strong winds have already started to hit the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Meteorologists expect the centre of Isabel to make landfall in eastern North Carolina later on Thursday.

People are taking no chances in its face, and most of the lower-lying areas have been evacuated
Chris Parmenter, US

At 0800 EDT (1200 GMT) the centre of the hurricane was about 95 miles (152 kilometres) south-southeast of Cape Lookout and moving towards the northwest.

A state of emergency has been declared in Maryland and Virginia, as well as in North Carolina, with police and emergency services mobilised across the hurricane's expected path and the National Guard on full alert.

Storm surge

The storm, at one point a rare maximum Category Five hurricane, has weakened to a Category Two, but its top wind speeds are gusting at around 105 mph (168 kilometres per hour).

Meteorologist Alison Lander, from News 14 Carolina, said there could be inland flooding.

"We are expecting a storm surge of seven to 11 feet (two to three metres) above the normal tides right along the coast line," she told the BBC.

"Further inland we are expecting tropical storm force winds of up to 74 mph (119 kph) as well as anywhere from six to 10 inches (15 to 25cm) of rainfall."

Rusty Jacobs, of WUNC radio on the North Carolina coast, said he had seen an impressive amount of resolve from people as well as people putting up boards to protect the windows on their homes.

"Some going to shelters but everybody with a quiet but positive attitude," he told the BBC.

"One gentleman I spoke to near the heart of where the storm is going to hit said this was the first time in 65 years and many, many storms that he felt he had to evacuate.

HURRICANE ISABEL

"He said this time he felt he just could not risk staying."

The storm is expected to track north heading straight for Washington DC and on into New England.

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said that even the White House was taking precautions by taking down flags and awnings.

"We're working to secure items that might be blown away, in the event of the high winds here, and so they will be secured by (Thursday) afternoon," he said.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the US Air Force had moved one of the jumbo 747s known as Air Force One from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, as a precaution.


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WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"We are expecting winds as strong as 105mph and waves 11 feet high"



SEE ALSO:
Isabel worries Washington
16 Sep 03  |  Americas
In pictures: Waiting for Isabel
17 Sep 03  |  Photo Gallery
Bermuda counts cost of hurricane
07 Sep 03  |  Americas
Hurricane Isabel: Your experiences
18 Sep 03  |  Have Your Say


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