Isabel Aftermath: 'Everybody's Trying to Function'

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Four days after Hurricane Isabel (search) barreled into the East Coast, thousands of people went back to work Monday without the benefit of home-cooked meals or hot showers, and encountered miles of blank traffic lights and downed power lines.

"No electricity, no water," said Jeanne Spahr, 39, of Dover, Pa., whose power went off Thursday as Isabel approached. "We've been pouring pond water to flush the toilet. It's not smelling so good. I grew up using an outhouse and I don't want to go back to that."

Isabel's effects were still widely evident Monday: Nearly 1.5 million customers remained without electricity. Hot meals were in short supply. Elderly residents had to be shuttled by boat from their flooded homes. And hundreds of roads were shut because of toppled trees and power lines.

At least 36 deaths have been blamed on the storm, 21 of them in Virginia.

North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware were declared federal disaster areas, and President Bush traveled to Richmond to be briefed on the recovery efforts.

Many residents were irritated that electric companies and government officials were unable to restore power four days after the storm hit.

"I understand that people are frustrated -- I'm frustrated," said Douglas M. Duncan, the Montgomery County, Md., executive. "We're working, of course, with the power company to get power restored, but it's been very slow going."

Arenzo Jefferson, of Richmond, said he was lucky because he owns a vacant rental house where his family has been sleeping since two trees crashed onto the roof of their home. Still, he was eager to get power restored to the family's home.

"I know they've got their hands full, but it's very, very inconvenient," Jefferson said as Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner toured his neighborhood to view the damage. "We lost all our food."

Along North Carolina's hard-hit Outer Banks, residents walked the trash-strewn beaches and ate breakfast in the few restaurants that were serving. Road crews had plowed the sand from major beach roads into 6- to 8-foot-high berms along the shoulders.

"Some of the stores are open, but they're not selling dairy products yet," said Erica Stephens, 30, of Kill Devil Hills, as she walked her dog along the sand. "We're trying to function. Everybody's trying to function."

Farther south along the Outer Banks, relief workers in boats brought food and supplies to residents of Hatteras Village, which was cut off from the rest of Hatteras Island when Isabel carved a new channel across the narrow ribbon of land.

"Thank goodness for the Salvation Army (search)," Janet Aiken said. "They're serving up three hot squares a day to anyone who needs it. And the National Guard brought in a lot of water for us and set up the generators, so we've got electricity in some parts and enough drinking water."

She said volunteers with a boat had come by the island to pick up elderly residents or people with heart conditions. "That's just how people are here," she said.

The Monday morning commute was especially difficult in southeastern Virginia.

The Midtown Tunnel, which carries 40,000 vehicles a day between Norfolk and Portsmouth, flooded during the storm Thursday and still was full of water. Authorities estimate it will be closed at least two weeks while they pump out the water.

"It's an adventure," said a jeans-clad Jennifer Ayers, who rode her bicycle a couple of miles from her Portsmouth home to catch a ferry across the Elizabeth River to Norfolk, carrying her office clothes in a backpack.

Motorists whose regular work routes remained opened still had to be careful, with many traffic signals out.

Police directed traffic at major intersections, but motorists were left to fend for themselves along many side streets. To make sure traffic moved as smoothly as possible, officials urged drivers to treat each intersection as a four-way stop. No major delays were reported Monday morning around the Washington area, despite nearly 200 signal outages.

Despite the exasperation over the pace of repairs, few government officials were casting blame, insisting everything humanly possible was being done to recover from the storm.

"In the fifth day without power, I know everybody's getting frustrated. As I've heard of individual community's concerns, I'm making sure they're dealt with as soon as possible," Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner said.

Dominion Virginia Power (search) has 9,700 linemen, contract workers and tree trimmers -- the largest restoration force in the utility's history -- working to restore power.

The army of workers trying to restore power was not of much comfort to Sylvia Jones of Richmond, who said she was having a hard time sleeping because she cannot run her ceiling fan or air conditioning.

"I'm about to have a fit," she said. "That's the thing that's killing me. I'm scared to sleep with my window up. It's not safe."