Weakened Ernesto drenches Mid-Atlantic, causing power outages and forcing evacuations

Saturday, September 2nd 2006, 1:07 pm
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Disrupting the start of the Labor Day weekend, the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto drenched the Mid-Atlantic region, cut power to more than 400,000 customers and forced evacuations.

Ernesto was blamed for at least five deaths in Virginia and North Carolina, where it swirled ashore late Thursday as a tropical storm, a day after severe thunderstorms had already drenched the region. It weakened Friday to a tropical depression, meaning its sustained winds had fallen below 39 mph.

Flash flood watches were posted early Saturday for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Flood warnings were issued for North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and the District of Columbia. Many of the watches, including those in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, were lifted as the storm moved farther inland and lost much of its punch.

Eastern North Carolina got 8 to 12 inches of rain, while southeastern Virginia measured up to a foot. Seven inches fell in Worcester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and a wind gust of 61 mph was recorded in Ocean City, said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

Sheriff's deputies in St. Mary's County, Md., on Friday evacuated about 30 residents of St. George's Island, which juts into the Potomac River where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. The county ordered the evacuation of all tidal areas, about 3,000 people.

Greg Gill, 36, waded through waist-deep water to leave the island. ``It pushed me back and forth as I walked through it,'' he said. ``I was going to stay (in my house), but it just keep getting worse and worse.''

More than 200 homes were evacuated in Richmond, Va., and about a dozen people had to leave their homes in coastal Poquoson, which is still recovering from Hurricane Isabel three years ago. About 50 homes on Chesapeake Bay's Northumberland County were also evacuated, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said.

In Gloucester, Va., a husband and wife were crushed to death when a tree fell on their modular home, said Maj. T.P. Doss, a spokesman for the county sheriff's office.

Two traffic deaths in Virginia and one in North Carolina were also blamed on Ernesto.

More than 460,000 customers were without power from North Carolina to New Jersey, with more than 200,000 of those in Virginia.

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and the mayor of the District of Columbia, each declared a state of emergency because of the storm. Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said he decided against one because his state has been so dry.

West Virginia closed its emergency command center early Saturday after the heaviest rains fell to the east.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley planned to take an aerial tour Saturday of the Northeast Cape Fear River. By late Friday, the river rose to over 16 feet in Chinquapin, a few inches above its flood stage of 13 feet. It was expected to crest Sunday at around 18 feet, at which point numerous roads would flood and residents would need to be evacuated, said Scott Kennedy, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Morehead City.

Arlene Losaw lost her mobile home to Hurricane Fran 10 years ago.

As the river rose Friday, water gradually covered her driveway and began lapping at the front stoop of her newer mobile home in Chinquapin. She and her husband, William, were hoping they wouldn't have to evacuate _ or lose their home again.

``I thought we were done with this mess,'' Losaw said. ``It keeps coming and, depending on how bad it gets, we may have to get out of here.''