CHARLESTON, S.C. - Residents moved boats and booked inland hotel rooms while National Guard troops prepared to deploy along the Southeastern coast as Tropical Storm Hanna plowed through the Atlantic on Thursday, with Category 4 Hurricane Ike trailing a few days behind.
The uncertain path of Hanna, which may become a hurricane by the time it hits land sometime Saturday, had emergency officials holding off ordering coastal residents to head inland Wednesday. Still, high schools in South Carolina canceled football games and workers in Savannah, Ga., put storm shutters over the windows of the gold-domed City Hall.
"Hopefully the good Lord will bless us and this storm will skirt past but we are ready in whatever case happens," North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said.
Hanna, responsible for at least 61 deaths in Haiti, was chugging through the Bahamas on Thursday with 70-mph winds, just short of hurricane strength. A hurricane watch was issued Thursday for Edisto Beach, S.C., north to Surf City, N.C. And a tropical storm watch was issued from Edisto Beach south to Altamaha Sound, Ga. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours. A tropical storm watch means tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours.
The storm was tentatively predicted to hit somewhere along the Carolinas, and its winds were forecast to rake along more southern shorelines. Officials as far north as Washington urged people to prepare for the possibility of heavy wind and rain.
Ike could arrive in the Bahamas on Sunday; Tropical Storm Josephine was farther out to sea.
Hanna comes as New Orleans residents start to return home after fleeing Hurricane Gustav, which did less damage than feared but still caused serious flooding and could leave some in Louisiana without electricity for up to a month.
But Hanna wasn't spawning such a mass exodus just yet.
Officials contemplated whether to order evacuations for the roughly 1 million people who live between Savannah and Wilmington, N.C. Joe Farmer, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, said calls for coastal residents to evacuate could come around noon Thursday, starting with voluntary evacuations.
Gov. Tim Kaine declared a state of emergency Thursday in Virginia, freeing up state resources for storm response. North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said Hanna could bring 10 inches of rain to the state and pleaded with residents to be prepared. Food and other emergency supplies are available at state emergency warehouses.
"We have in place everything that we need," Easley said.
Uninhabited islands at Cape Lookout National Seashore north of Wilmington, N.C., were to close at 5 p.m. Thursday. The Marines at Parris Island, S.C., moved their weekly recruit graduation up a day to Thursday. South Carolina restricted port operations. In the Carolinas, Air Force bases sent planes to Ohio.