Tropical Storm Hanna sped toward the Carolinas today, promising to deliver gusty winds and heavy rain during a dash up America’s 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.
Emergency officials urged evacuations in only a few spots in the Carolinas and about 400 people went to shelters in both states. Forecasters said there was only a small chance Hanna could become a hurricane and most people simply planned to stay off the roads until the storm passed.
Rain started falling yesterday on the Carolina coast, with streets in some spots flooding by late afternoon and wind gusts hitting 45mph as the leading edges of the storm approached land, making people gathered on beaches shout to be heard.
Hanna was expected to blow ashore today between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, North Carolina, then race up the Atlantic Coast, reaching New England by Sunday morning local time.
Tropical storm watches or warnings ran from Georgia to Massachusetts and included all of Chesapeake Bay, the Washington DC area and New York’s Long Island.
Several inches of rain were expected in the Carolinas, as well as central Virginia, Maryland and south-eastern Pennsylvania. Some spots could see up to 10ins and forecasters warned of the potential for flash flooding in the northern mid-Atlantic states and southern New England.
South Carolina governor 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,” he said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials expected Hanna to move quickly but said they had supplies in place and emergency crews ready to respond if needed.
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 4am BST, Hanna had maximum sustained winds near 70mph and was centred about 140 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina.
The storm, blamed for disastrous flooding and more than 100 deaths in Haiti, was moving near 20mph. A hurricane watch was in effect for Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina near the Virginia line.
Organisers of the US 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 35mph.
For all the talk of Hanna, there was more about Ike, which could become the fiercest storm to strike South Florida since Andrew, which did more than £14.5 billion in damage and was blamed for 65 deaths from wind and flooding along with car crashes and other storm-related accidents.
FEMA said it was 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 today.
Meanwhile in Haiti, United Nations peacekeeping troops began handing out food and water to famished flood victims after the first shipload of aid sailed into a crumbling port on the outskirts of Gonaives, where tens of thousands are stranded in the wake of Tropical Storm Hanna.
Receding flood waters revealed more corpses in the stinking muck, bringing fears the death toll of 163 will rise even higher.