Hanna aims at U.S. east coast

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (AP) - September 5, 2008

/*Hanna*/ will likely wash out the weekend from the Carolinas to Maine. Tropical storm watches or warnings ran from Georgia to Rhode Island, and included all of Chesapeake Bay, the Washington D.C. area and Long Island.

As the first rain started to fall on the popular barrier island beaches south of Wilmington, Sam Owens packed up the camper he brought from State College, Pa., to the dunes that line the ocean side of Holden Beach. He had rented a spot for four months, but the campground's owners said the high winds Hanna will bring with her meant it was time to go.

"We have to be out by noon and that is what we are going to do," said Owens, 56-year-old retired Marine. "I hope I can come back because either way I have to pay."

The latest forecast called on Hanna to make landfall on the northern coast of South Carolina around 2 a.m. Saturday before marching quickly up the Atlantic seaboard and pushing into New England by early Sunday morning. Hanna was expected to dump several inches of rain on in North and South Carolina, as well as central Virginia, Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Some spots could see up to 10 inches of rain, and forecasters warned of the potential for flash flooding in the northern mid-Atlantic states and southern New England.

"This is not just not going to be a coastal issue and we need to be aware of that," North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said Friday. "This is a very, very large storm, a huge low pressure system, so the winds and the rain are going to be widespread north and south as well as east and west."

In Charleston, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said there was no reason to flee, but urged residents to stay inside when Hanna blows through with wind gusts that could reach 65 mph.

"Stay home, protect yourself, look out for your neighbors and we will get through this just fine," he said.

Several counties in both North and South Carolina opened shelters, and hotels further inland offered discounts to those fleeing Hanna's path. But on the thin barrier islands that make up North Carolina's Outer Banks, vacation home owner Joe DiStefano checked out the forecast early Friday and said Hanna appears to be moving too quickly to cause much damage.

"It's the storms that linger - that keep blowing and blowing and causing a lot of erosion - that do the most damage," said DiStefano, of Deale, Md., taking a break from reading a magazine on the beach in Nags Head. "Unless it stays for a long time, it's not too worrying."

Andy and Janine Curlee brought kites to Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Friday morning, after arriving the night before for a family weekend. They were leaving Sunday, and hoped Hanna would move fast enough to clear things out for a nice beach day Saturday afternoon.

No matter the weather, Janine Curlee already had plans for Saturday morning. "Storms make it great for shelling," she said.

As of 11 a.m. EDT Friday, Hanna had maximum sustained winds near 65 mph and was centered about 375 miles south of Wilmington. The storm was moving toward the northwest near 20 mph. A hurricane watch remained in effect for Edisto Beach, S.C., to the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the Virginia border.

The occasional rain showers drifted over Myrtle Beach, which was guarded Friday by red "No Swimming" flags. Randy Kent, who arrived from Toronto, Canada, on Wednesday, was among the dozens of people walking up and down the beach, watching the waves churned up by the approaching storm.

"It looks kind of ominous today, doesn't it?" said Kent, who had no plans to flee or cut his vacation short. "I'm on the 20th floor and I don't think the building's coming down."

In the District of Columbia, officials prepared for the possibility of flooding in low-lying neighborhoods by removing debris from catch basins and stockpiling sandbags, said Jo'Ellen Countee, a D.C. Emergency Management Agency spokesman. Portable pumps and generators also were to be placed in problem areas.

Still, the bigger worry was the ferocious-looking Hurricane Ike, which weakened to a Category 3 storm early Friday as it headed toward the Bahamas and Florida. And with power outages and problems from Hurricane Gustav lingering in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and relief groups found themselves juggling three storms.

"You've got to make a snap judgment just before the play of where you're going to stay," said FEMA's head of disaster operations, Glenn Cannon. "We don't want to get sucked in by having all of our resources at the wrong place, but we've got to be flexible enough to move."

The normally bustling waterfront in Morehead City was nearly deserted early Friday. Charter captain Bobby Ballou said most of his colleagues decided to haul out before Hanna arrived, but the 60-year veteran of the charter business sat on a bench at his dock and spliced thick lines to tie up his boat.

"I'm not too worried about this one," said 74-year-old Ballou. "That Ike, I don't like him."


Associated Press writers Estes Thompson in Morehead City, Mike Baker in Nags Head, Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C., and Jeffery Collins in Myrtle Beach, S.C., contributed to this report.

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