Nearly a million people were without electricity on America’s east coast tonight as hurricane Isabel slammed ashore.
Waves 40ft high and 100mph winds lashed the coastline as the storm passed over land, dumping up to 10in of rain in its wake.
Much of the east coast, including the capital Washington, virtually closed down and 300,000 people, including President George Bush, fled to higher ground.
Thousands more who had tried to weather the storm at home surrendered to its might and sought refuge at Red Cross centres, the charity said.
There were no reports of deaths or injuries, nor an initial estimate of overall damage.
Meanwhile, more than 1,500 flights in major eastern cities were cancelled, including many British ones, according to the Air Travellers Association.
President Bush was sheltering at his Camp David retreat in the Maryland Hills.
Earlier, Air Force One, the presidential jumbo jet, was flown out of Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, to Georgia as the 350 mile wide storm approached.
Congress cancelled votes so members could return home and the White House, like millions of other American homes, secured all moveable objects against storm damage, said spokesman Scott McClellan.
Federal and local offices and schools were closed and transport services suspended.
Speaking from Camp David, President Bush reassured the nation that the US was “very well prepared” for hurricane Isabel.
“We have got pre-positioned equipment in place, proper warnings have gone out and the communication systems are up and running,” he said.
He added: “I will be monitoring the situation. I will be in close contact with the emergency management people.”
Mr Bush was speaking after a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, which had been brought forward a day because of the storm.
He had earlier hosted a video conference with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Mike Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to discuss the potentially disastrous weather.
The full impact of the storm was first felt in the states of North Carolina and Virginia.
The eye of the storm first hit North Carolina’s Outer Banks area. Many of the islands in the area had already been abandoned and homes boarded up.
In North Carolina, 100,000 people were ordered out and another 100,000 are under mandatory evacuation in Virginia.
Those who ignored the warning were told help would not be sent to them if they are in distress.
Virginia Beach police suggested they write their names in permanent marker on their forearms so they can be identified if they are injured or killed A gust of 105mph was registered at Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, although wind speeds were expected to ease as the hurricane passed over land.
But Hurricane Centre director Max Mayfield said: “This is still a very powerful storm. This is a very large hurricane and very well defined.”
More than 800,000 customers lost electricity in south-eastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina, according to Dominion Virginia Power and other power companies.
In North Carolina authorities called for a “federal disaster declaration” to free up emergency funds.
Pennsylvania issued a statewide “disaster emergency” declaration and West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware declared emergencies.
In Delaware, 100 National Guard troops were put on standby at emergency centres.
A hurricane warning was in effect from Cape Fear in southern North Carolina to the Virginia-Maryland border. A tropical storm warning extended northward to New York’s Long Island, including parts of New York City.
The National Hurricane Centre said torrential rain could extend all the way to the New England states.
At Jamestown, Virginia, archaeologists covered a dig site of the first permanent English settlement in America. A tarpaulin anchored it with sandbags.
The storm is expected to move north across North Carolina and Virginia and then move through western Pennsylvania and western New York state before dissipating over Canada by Saturday.