MUCH OF America's North-East was battening down the hatches yesterday as Hurricane Floyd careened up the coast. Although its strength was much reduced, it still posed a serious threat to coastal communities from Virginia to Maine and winds of 75mph or more extended for over 100 miles from its centre.
Four people were killed in North Carolina, where it made landfall, and one person died in the Bahamas, which Floyd hit earlier in the week. The deaths were believed to be from traffic accidents provoked by the storm.
Floyd hit land in the early hours yesterday near Cape Fear, North Carolina, flooding the coast and sweeping away trees and boats with 110mph winds. It cut electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. A 10-foot surge washed over the nearby Wilmington area as Floyd rolled in. Rain still poured down at midmorning.
Flooding was severe across the east of the state and water was waist- high on roads near the coast. Floodwaters burst a dam holding back Lake Glenwood and forced emergency officials to evacuate a shelter full of refugees in Pitt County. "The flooding is just incredible, over mail boxes in some areas," said Huey Marshall, spokesman for Brunswick County.
Across the Cape Fear river in New Hanover County, more than 16 inches of rain fell. Buildings were battered in several eastern counties and winds were recorded at 138mph in Wrightsville Beach.
In Pender County, National Guards in trucks went to rescue people trapped in their homes by rising water. Some were stranded on trailer home roofs in Roanoke Rapids. Floyd swept on to Greenville and was moving at about 25 miles per hour to the North-east. Hurricanes lose power over land.
"It is a very dangerous storm," said North Carolina's Governor James Hunt. "We've had terrific damage." Thousands of people had lost their homes, he said. "We have had four deaths reported already and the great danger is that the tremendous flooding, the worst in our history, from this storm, could mean more people getting out into these flood waters today trying to get back to their homes or other places." Waist-high floods covered coastal areas.
As it swept onwards to Virginia, cities as far north as Massachusetts were preparing for the worst. Disaster preparations were under way in New York City, Cape Cod and along the coast of Maine. Schools were closed in New Jersey and New York, and in apartment blocks in Greenwich Village residents were warned of the imminent danger.
Mayor Rudolph Giulianiasked private businesses in New York City to close early so people could get home safely. The heavy rains and storm surge which a hurricane brings could knock out roads and subways in commuter areas across the North-east.
Police declared a state of emergency in Atlantic City, which was gearing up to hold the Miss America pageant today. Winds of up to 60mph were expected to hit the city last night and today. Atlantic City, the East Coast's premier casino town, is on a barrier island three miles offshore.
Hurricane Gert, which had been closely tracking Floyd's path, seemed set to turn north and east out into the Atlantic rather than hitting the US coast. It has strengthened to a Category Five, but should miss land.
In New York City, Kennedy International Airport was reporting 30 to 45- minute flight delays yesterday. Rain caused delays of up to an hour at nearby La Guardia Airport, although the Newark, New Jersey, airport reported no weather-related trouble.
While flights to Miami and some other Florida cities resumed, hundreds of others were cancelled yesterday in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the Washington area. American Airlines grounded flights in Boston, Hartford, Connecticut, New York and Philadelphia.
Elsewhere, Amtrak said it did not expect to fully restore passenger rail service south of Washington until today, at the earliest.
TYPHOON YORK LASHES HONG KONG
TYPHOON YORK lashed Hong Kong yesterday, leaving one person dead, one missing and nearly 500 injured as the territory's worst storm in 16 years uprooted trees, tossed ships about and shattered windows. Some 467 people were taken to hospital, including a man hit by flying debris who bled to death. Eleven people were in a serious condition. In winds of up to 87mph, rescuers winched five crew off a sinking freighter and pulled residents out of flooded homes and lifts stranded between floors by power failures. It is the worst storm to hit Hong Kong since Typhoon Ellen killed 10 people in 1983.