US East Coast braces for Tropical Storm Hanna

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (AP) -- Beach vacationers in the Carolinas prepared to pack up and head inland Friday as Tropical Storm Hanna cruised steadily toward the coast, while others decided to ride out the fast-moving storm that had only a slight chance to become a small hurricane before crashing ashore overnight.

The storm will likely wash out the weekend from the Carolinas to Maine. Tropical storm watches or warnings ran from Georgia to areas just south of New York City, and included all of Chesapeake Bay and the Washington D.C. area.

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 the coastal areas of the Carolinas through 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.

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."

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 governors of Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina declared precautionary states of emergency. In South Carolina, Gov. Mark Sanford urged people to leave flood-prone areas and mobile homes in two northern counties by Friday afternoon.

Cannon warned his employees and other emergency managers not to lose focus on Hanna, which killed at least 137 people in Haiti as it swept through the Caribbean. 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.

"Everybody's a little tired right now, and, I think, would like to look past Hanna, and we know Ike has us all concerned," Cannon said. "But Hanna can jump up and bite us."

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."

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