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2003: Washington DC swept by hurricane

A massive hurricane has swept through the area around Washington DC, the capital of the United States.

At least two deaths have already been attributed to the storm, known as Hurricane Isabel, since it hit the east coast late yesterday, wreaking widespread havoc with winds gusting at up to 150 km/h (90mph).

By early today, most people in Washington had already taken shelter. The streets are largely empty, and much of the city has simply shut down, including federal buildings.

Uprooted trees are blocking several roads, and many streets are covered in leaves, branches and fallen power lines.

Flights cancelled

President George W Bush was among those who left the capital, going to his retreat at Camp David in Maryland, along with his guest, King Abdullah of Jordan.

One tree came down in the front garden of the White House, although workers said there was no damage to the building itself.

Flights in to the capital were cancelled or diverted, and all three airports in the Washington area have been shut down. Many train services have also stopped.

The storm was at one point rated a rare maximum Category Five. When it came ashore in North Carolina it was a Category Two hurricane - still strong enough to rip off roofs, knock down trees and snap power lines along the length of the coastline.

Lashing rain and high winds have left about one million homes are without power, and there is widespread flooding as sea levels have risen dramatically.

Major disaster zone

President Bush has declared parts of Virginia and North Carolina major disaster zones, a move which will release federal funds to aid recovery efforts.

In the beach resort of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, Fred Gentry described how the hurricane tore down his house.

"The wall literally just split in half horizontally, it just caved in, taking the furniture with it," he told the AFP news agency.

Forecasters are warning that it could still do considerable damage, with the main danger from flooding as the hurricane dumps heavy rain on soil already saturated from a wetter than normal summer.

Meteorologists expect Isabel to peter out over Canada by Sunday.

In Context
As predicted, Hurricane Isabel died away two days later.

At least 15 people were killed, mainly in vehicle accidents and by falling trees. Almost four million homes on the east coast were left without electricity.

Damage was put at half a billion dollars. Federal government offices, the public transport system, monuments and museums in Washington DC remained closed for two days.

The clean-up operation lasted weeks, and in some areas of North Carolina, where the storm first hit, it took until the following summer to recover.

Hurricane Isabel was the first major hurricane to threaten this section of the eastern seaboard since 1999 when Hurricane Floyd, also a Category Two hurricane, caused $4.5 billion damage and 56 deaths.

Scientists have warned that North America and Canada are entering a new phase of major hurricane activity.

Since 1995, the average number of major hurricanes has more than doubled.


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