MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Tropical Storm Hanna cruised toward the Carolinas on Friday, forecast to hit land overnight and 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.
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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.
"My vacation lasts through Sunday," said Jesse King of Asheboro, N.C., who hid under a Myrtle Beach pier as winds picked up and bursts of blinding rain fell Friday evening. "They are going to have to tell me I have to leave if they want me to go before Sunday."
Rain started falling early Friday on the Carolina coast, with streets in some spots flooding by late afternoon and wind gusts hitting 45 mph as the leading edges of the storm approached land, making people gathered on beaches shout to be heard.
Hanna was expected to blow ashore early Saturday morning between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, N.C., 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.
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."
As many as 7 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.
The National Weather Service said the storm should hit the Carolina coast during a falling tide, tempering the potential for coastal flooding, but tornadoes may follow. People were urged not to leave as the storm strengthened.
"Now that we're getting some stronger winds, hopefully they've done everything they need to do because the time has come to stay put," said Ron Steve, a weather service meteorologist in Wilmington.
Sunset Beach, N.C., Police Chief Lisa Massey said an evacuation of 75 of the roughly 100 permanent residents and vacationers on her island went well. The island is separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway, and can only be accessed by a one-lane, pontoon bridge that has been tied open for the duration of the storm.
"We're just hunkered down and we're going to ride it out," she said.
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."
In Wilmington, Kirby King, a 50-year-old Army veteran, arrived at a shelter in an elementary school housing about 140 other people.
"I've been married twice and been in the service 15 years. This storm doesn't scare me," 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.
Utilities as far north as New Hampshire put electric and natural gas crews on notice 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.
At 11 p.m. EDT, Hanna had maximum sustained winds near 70 mph and was centered about 140 miles south of Wilmington, N.C. The storm, blamed for disastrous flooding and more than 100 deaths in Haiti, was moving 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, which did more than $26 billion in damage and was blamed for 65 deaths from wind and flooding along with car crashes and other storm-related accidents.
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."