Southeast states brace for Tropical Storm Hanna

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kevin Maurer
Associated Press Writer
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) ó Tropical storm watches or warnings were extended from Georgia to areas just south of New York City on Friday as states along the Atlantic braced for Tropical Storm Hanna.
And forecasters said Hanna could still become a hurricane before its expected arrival on U.S. shores after roaring past the edge of the Bahamas on Thursday.
A tropical storm warning was in effect stretching from Altamaha Sound in Georgia northward to Chincoteague, Va., just south of Maryland. And a tropical storm watch was in effect for areas between Chincoteague and Sandy Hook, N.J., including Washington.
A tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions are expected within 24 hours. A watch means tropical storm conditions are expected in the area within 36 hours.
A hurricane watch remained in effect for Edisto Beach, S.C., to the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the Virginia border.
As of 5 a.m. EDT Friday, Hanna had maximum sustained winds near 65 mph and was centered about 430 miles south of Wilmington, N.C. The storm was accelerating and moving toward the northwest near 20 mph.
Some southeastern states declared emergencies and officials urged residents to head inland Thursday as Hanna headed toward the Atlantic coast, where it could bring high winds and rain from South Carolina to Maine.
Meanwhile, disaster planners eyed ferocious-looking Hurricane Ike, which weakend to a Category 3 storm early Friday but was still considered a dangerous hurricane by the National Hurricane Center.
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.
Rain and wind from Hanna could start as early as Friday night in the South, where some residents shuttered houses and stocked up on food and sandbags, coastal parks closed, and schools canceled events and changed sports schedules.
The governors of Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley urged residents to pay attention because Hannaís path could change.
ěNo, youíre not in the clear if youíre not in the track we talked about today,î he said. ěYouíre in the clear after the storm goes through and didnít bother you.î
In South Carolina, Gov. Mark Sanford urged people to leave flood-prone areas and mobile homes in two northern counties by Friday afternoon.
Still, some scoffed at the storm that has killed at least 137 people in Haiti. Instead, they turned their attention to Ike, a powerful hurricane approaching the Bahamas. FEMA was sending hundreds of truckloads of meals, water and other supplies to the East Coast but also leaving resources on the Gulf Coast in case Ike heads there.
ěIke looks like itís a very, very dangerous storm,î said FEMA Administrator David Paulison.
The latest storms come on the heels of Gustav, which had some Louisiana residents still without power and living in shelters several days later.
The American Red Cross also was moving supplies, equipment and people. The organization was borrowing money to cover Gustav expenses that could reach more than $70 million and expects to go deeper into debt as it prepares for the other storms, said Red Cross vice president Joseph Becker.
In North Myrtle Beach, S.C., few homes were boarded up Thursday, but vacationers hastily packed bags.
ěWeíve seen people boarding up today and the Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead and decided it was time to go,î said James Collins, of Cadillac, Mich.
Emergency managers in New England also planned for Hanna, which could hit this weekend with heavy rain and strong winds. In Providence, R.I., workers cleared storm drains and stocked up on sandbags and residents were urged to buy supplies.
ěIf nothing else itís a good dress rehearsal for Ike if Ike were to come,î said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Meanwhile, Haitiís government more than doubled Hannaís death toll late Thursday to 137. It had previously been 61. Eighty of the deaths occurred in the flooded region of Gonaives and another 22 people died in areas immediately surrounding the port, according to statements released by the Ministry of the Interior and the Civil Protection Department.
Gonaives has been almost entirely cut off by Hannaís floodwaters and virtual lakes have formed over every road.
The storm also was blamed for two deaths in Puerto Rico.
Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson, Estes Thompson and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh; Page Ivey, Susanne M. Schafer and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C.; Jeffrey Collins in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C.; Ben Evans and Eileen Sullivan in Washington; and Karen Testa in Boston contributed to this report.