(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Tropical Storm Hanna picked up speed Friday as it cruised toward the Carolinas, promising to deliver gusty winds and heavy rain during a dash up the Eastern Seaboard that could wash out the weekend for millions of people.
Not far behind was a much bigger worry: a ferocious-looking Hurricane Ike, on a path similar to the one taken by Andrew, the Category 5 monster that devastated South Florida in 1992. Ike could hit Florida by the middle of next week.
In only a few spots in the Carolinas did emergency officials urge evacuations or open shelters for Hanna. Forecasters said there was only a small chance it could become a hurricane, and most people simply planned to stay off the roads until the storm passed.
"If it was a Category 1 or 2, I might think about leaving," said Eddie Brown of Gastonia, N.C., who planned to spend the weekend at Myrtle Beach. "And I tell you, if it was Ike, I'd already be long gone."
Rain started to fall early Friday on the Carolina coast, with streets in some spots flooding by late afternoon and winds expected to pick up later in the night. Hanna was expected to blow ashore between Myrtle Beach and Charleston overnight, then race up the Atlantic Coast, reaching New England by Sunday morning. Tropical storm watches or warnings ran from Georgia to Massachusetts, and included all of Chesapeake Bay, the Washington, D.C., area and Long Island.
Some refused to cancel long-set plans to visit the shore. Terry Hash arrived in Myrtle Beach on Thursday, ready to celebrate her 50th birthday with college friends from Colgate University at the Raiders football game against Coastal Carolina.
"I'm not worried because it's not a Category 4," Hash said. "I just love the beach when it's stormy. It really shows the power the ocean has."
High tide came in midday and rolled all the way up to the dunes along parts of Myrtle Beach, drawing hundreds of people to gawk and walk along the shore. Vacationers strolled among the T-shirt shops and beachwear stores of South Carolina's most popular tourist destination. A few risked the water, despite the red "No Swimming" flags.
"I saw the waves and I figured I probably won't get another chance to do this. Might as well try it," said Burt Leibach, 29, of Pittsburgh. "It's rough — knock you off your feet a few times. But it's fun."
Several inches of rain were expected in the Carolinas, as well as central Virginia, Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania. Some spots could see up to 10 inches, and forecasters warned of the potential for flash flooding in the northern mid-Atlantic states and southern New England.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said people in low-lying areas, mobile homes, camping trailers or places susceptible to wind damage should consider leaving: "Now is the time to look at taking shelter."
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they expect Hanna to move quickly up the coast without the need for a lot of mandatory evacuations. Still, they said they had supplies in place and emergency crews ready to respond.
Utilities as far north as New Hampshire put electric and natural gas crews on notice that they might have to work long hours to repair any damage. At the Ocean Edge Resort and Club on Cape Cod in Brewster, Mass., staff members braced for rain as they prepared for an outdoor wedding Saturday.
"Hopefully it will blow out to sea and it won't even bother them," said Bryan Webb, director of sales and marketing. "Everyone's going to be dressed so impeccably. You don't want to have someone ruin a dress or a purse."
As of 5 p.m. EDT, Hanna had maximum sustained winds near 70 mph and was centered about 240 miles south of Wilmington, N.C. The storm, which was blamed for disastrous flooding and more than 100 deaths in Haiti, was moving at near 20 mph. A hurricane watch was in effect for Edisto Beach, S.C., to the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the Virginia line.
In Washington, officials prepared for the possibility of flooding in low-lying neighborhoods by removing debris from catch basins, stockpiling sandbags and lining up portable pumps and generators. In New Jersey, 300 dump trucks hauled in sand to fortify a beach in the Strathmere section of Upper Township.
"These shipments of sand are a good thing, but if they don't work out, the people down here could lose their houses," said Tim Buckland, whose family has owned an oceanfront house in Strathmere for 50 years. He was at the beach Friday, playing in bigger-than-normal waves with his family.
Amtrak canceled some Saturday service in preparation for Hanna. Ten trains, including the Silver Meteor between New York and Miami, and the Auto Train between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla., were halted.
Organizers of the U.S. Open in New York said they may have to reschedule some of the tennis matches after seeing forecasts calling for about 12 hours of rain and wind up to 35 mph.
For all the talk of Hanna, there was more about Ike, which could become the fiercest storm to strike South Florida since Andrew. Andrew was blamed for 65 deaths and more than $35 billion in damage. FEMA officials said they were positioning supplies, search and rescue crews, communications equipment and medical teams in Florida and along the Gulf Coast — a task complicated by Ike's changing path. Tourists in the Keys were ordered to leave beginning Saturday morning.
In Morehead City, N.C., charter captain Bobby Ballou sat on a bench and spliced lines to tie up his boat at the dock before Hanna arrived.
"I'm not too worried about this one," the 74-year-old Ballou said. "That Ike, I don't like him."
Mike Baker reported from Nags Head, N.C. Associated Press writers Estes Thompson in Morehead City, N.C., Kevin Maurer in Holden Beach, N.C., Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., Ben Evans in Washington, Bruce Smith in Charleston and Jim Davenport in Columbia contributed to this report.