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Evacuees jam East Coast highways as Floyd heads for Carolinas

Updated:
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) -- More coastal residents fled inland
today in the nation's biggest evacuation ever as Hurricane Floyd
thrashed along the southern Atlantic coast, pounding beaches with
heavy surf and ripping down tree limbs and power lines.

Myrtle Beach and Jacksonville, Fla., were virtual ghost towns
today as people fled or stayed indoors. Traffic jams clogged
highways around Wilmington, N.C.

Some 2.6 million people had been urged to evacuate, said
officials in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and more people
joined the exodus today in North Carolina.

It was the biggest evacuation in U.S. history, federal emergency
officials said.

A shelter in a Wilmington school took in about 110 evacuees in
less than an hour after opening today.

"They talk like this one is going to be pretty mean. It's got
everybody shook up," said Terry Hurley, who went to the shelter
with his wife and two young children.

Thousands of Florida residents were without power, but that
state escaped the worst as Floyd swung northward.

The storm weakened today to a Category 3 hurricane, with
sustained wind blowing at 120 mph instead of the peak of nearly 155
mph when it battered the Bahamas. The enormous storm spread rain
along the coast from Florida to Connecticut, and heavy surf
advisories were posted as far north as Massachusetts' Cape Cod.

Floyd is expected to make landfall about 5 to 6 a.m. Thursday
between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C., said
meteorologist Todd Kimberlain at the National Hurricane Center in
Miami. The storm was gaining energy from the warm water of the Gulf
Stream but its wind was not likely to reach Category 4's 131 mph.

After making landfall, the storm's wind and pouring rain were
expected to weaken but make life miserable all the way up the coast
toward Canada's New Brunswick.

A citywide curfew was set for 3 p.m. today in Myrtle Beach.
Violators would get a warning, then a ticket, and would be arrested
if they still disobeyed.

"We don't need to be worrying about them and we don't need them
out in the weather," spokesman Mark Kruea said.

In Beaufort County, at South Carolina's southern tip, about 90
percent of the nearly 120,000 residents had cleared out. "It's
like a tomb out here now," said Bud Boyne, the county's emergency
operations center spokesman.

Jacksonville, Fla., a city of 1 million, also looked deserted
today with funnel clouds visible and dark clouds circling overhead.
Surf crashed onto city streets in Jacksonville Beach and nearby
Flagler County closed a seaside highway because of waves.

Officials in North Carolina ordered evacuations for the barrier
islands outside Wilmington and up the coast for the Outer Banks,
the fragile islands that were battered by Hurricane Dennis last
week.

Traffic ground to a halt in massive jams on Interstate 40 and
other highways leading inland from Wilmington, where heavy rain
flooded streets.

A tornado touched down in a rural area north of Wilmington today
without causing damage.

Three years ago, Hurricane Fran caused about $6 billion in
damage when it blew ashore at Wilmington and raced along Interstate
40 into Raleigh.

Although Floyd stayed off Florida's Atlantic coast during the
night, parts of the state were raked by gusts to 76 mph at Cape
Canaveral and 69 mph in Daytona Beach. Snapped tree limbs and power
lines left more than 100,000 people without electricity today. A
weather buoy more than 20 miles off Cape Canaveral measured a
54-foot wave as Floyd's eye passed over during the night.

Some 350 miles northeast of Jacksonville, eight people abandoned
a sinking tugboat today, but it was not clear if the weather was
directly responsible for the ship taking on water. "Floyd did not
help the situation," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John
Ware in Miami.

No significant damage was reported at the Kennedy Space Center.
The complex was deserted except for 102 volunteers who stayed to
ride out Floyd, which NASA feared could destroy launch pads and the
hangars where the space shuttles are kept.

At 3 p.m. EDT, the storm's center was about 200 miles south of
Myrtle Beach, S.C. Floyd was moving almost due northward at 15 mph,
and that motion was expected to continue today with a gradual turn
toward the north-northeast on Thursday, the National Hurricane
Center said.

A hurricane warning was in effect from near the Florida-Georgia
state line to the North Carolina-Virginia line. A hurricane watch
continued from there to Chincoteague, Va., and a tropical storm
watch was extended to the eastern tip of New York's Long Island.

Floyd's expected track would take its wind and rain across
Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Delaware, eastern
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, the New York City area, and into
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and
Canada's Maritime Provinces by Saturday night.

Floyd could still have 52 mph wind when it hits the Bangor,
Maine, area, forecasters said.

On the south side of New York's Long Island, authorities asked
people to get off Fire Island by Thursday morning because high wind
might halt ferry service.

Hundreds of airline flights in and out of Florida and Georgia
had been canceled, and all Amtrak service had been suspended south
of Washington.

Walt Disney World remained closed today after shutting down
Tuesday for the first time in its 28-year history. But SeaWorld was
reopening today and planned an evening "Farewell to Floyd"
fireworks show.

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