|Justin Myers rows a boat past parked cars on a flooded street in Baltimore, Virginia. (Reuters)
(up) Darlene Havenner carries her cat through her flooded neighbourhood in Lewisetta, Virginia. (Reuters)
Washington, Sept. 19 (Reuters): Hurricane Isabel left 14 dead, 4.5 million homes and businesses without power from the Carolinas to New York and the US capital shut down for a second day today, as it moved inland toward the Great Lakes, a weakened but still threatening storm.
Isabel sideswiped the nationís capital which had battened down in the face of record winds and rainfall and cut a path of destruction yesterday through the North Carolina and Virginia shorelines with winds of up to 160 kmph.
The worst damage was caused by winds and rains that downed tens of thousands of trees and pushed rivers and streams to record flood levels across a region already saturated with above-average rainfall.
There was widespread travel disruption on the east coast.
Relieved insurers now expected the bill for damages to be less than $1 billion, only a quarter of the $4 billion feared earlier in the week when Isabel screeched across the Atlantic as a category 5 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
ďIt was no Fran or Floyd, but for the folks who have trees in their living rooms, thatís little comfort,Ē North Carolina emergency management spokesperson Mark Van Sciver said, referring to previous devastating hurricanes in 1992 and 1999.
But across Isabelís path, evidence of widespread damage was mounting. There was flooding and hundreds of cars and houses were damaged.
In Baltimore, Maryland, water levels in neighbourhoods near the Chesapeake Bay submerged cars. In some places water was so deep that rescue crews in inflatable boats pulled up to door steps to evacuate residents.
Today saw blue skies and sunshine across the mid-Atlantic coastal region as the storm moved toward Cleveland, Ohio at a speed of 48 kmph. The National Weather Service lifted tropical storm warnings but cautioned that it still carried heavy rains and winds of 55 kmph and could return to tropical storm force over Canada. Energy companies reported record numbers without power and some areas were expected to be without power for up to a week.
Government officials and power crews urged residents to stay home while they started cleaning up extensive damage and repaired power and phone lines.
The federal government remained closed for a second day today after being ordered shut down yesterday as the storm bore down on the nationís capital.
Most of Congress left town before Isabel arrived. The capitalís Metro subway and bus system re-opened today.
Air travellers today still faced major delays. Amtrak struggled to get trains moving but virtually all service south of Washington remained halted and delays were reported for many trains headed west and up the eastern seaboard.
The storm flooded parts of Reagan National Airport, which was not expected to open until 1600 GMT, and the historic Old Town section of nearby Alexandria, Virginia. But Isabel did not hit the capital with as much force as expected. Heavy rain and high winds held off until early last night, when winds gusted to 84 kmph.