Isabel leaves trail of destruction and death

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The Independent US

At least 12 people died and more than 3.5 million were left without electricity today as Hurricane Isabel weakened into a tropical storm and raced up the Americsn east coast.

At least 12 people died and more than 3.5 million were left without electricity today as Hurricane Isabel weakened into a tropical storm and raced up the Americsn east coast.

The storm swamped tidal communities, uprooted trees, disrupted air traffic and shut down Washington. A surge on the Potomac river caused flooding of up to four feet in the old suburb of Alexandria

The massive storm was blamed for seven deaths in Virginia, one in North Carolina, one in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland and one in New Jersey.

The storm ploughed into North Carolina's Outer Banks with winds of about 100 mph and moved across Virginia early today, as it continued losing strength. It was expected to cut through western Pennsylvania and western New York state before dissipating in Canada by Saturday.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Isabel inflicted the worst damage along the Outer Banks. "Our concern down there is we have about 4,000 people who refused to evacuate; we're getting in to make sure they're OK," he said on ABC television.

In Washington, offices, monuments and subway tunnels were all but abandoned and the federal government shut down for two days, frustrating tourists. Some were surprised that monuments and museums were closed hours ahead of the storm.

With mid-Atlantic states left sodden by an unusually wet summer, the winds toppled trees and rains flooded creeks and low-lying areas.

Rainfall of between nine inches and a foot were predicted in West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania.

In Virginia alone, more than 1.5 million people lost power and more than 16,000 people filled evacuation shelters. Six people were killed in a pair of weather-related traffic accidents in the state; another was killed by a falling tree.

The Potomac River was forecast to see a surge of up to 6 feet. Streets were flooded in Alexandria's colonial Old Town district in Virginia.

The storm spared much of North Carolina the kind of flood damage is experienced from Hurricane Floyd, which left 56 dead and much of the state flooded in 1999. Isabel flooded some low-lying areas and knocked out electricity for hundreds of thousands.

President George Bush declared major disasters in North Carolina and Virginia, ordering federal aid to both states. The governors of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware declared state emergencies.

Well over 1,500 flights were cancelled at airports in the major Eastern cities, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. As the storm moved north, all flights to and from the Washington metropolitan area's airports were likely to be canceled, he said.

Amtrak halted service south of Washington, and the Washington-area Metro system shut down all subway and bus services.

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