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Hurricane Isabel Downgraded to Tropical Storm - 2003-09-19

Hurricane Isabel has left more than two million people without power in the U.S. states of North Carolina and Virginia. Isabel's winds have subsided to 120 kilometers an hour, but the storm continues to inflict damage as it moves on a northwesterly track after coming ashore along North Carolina's outer banks.

Isabel's winds stand at less than half the strength they registered just three days ago, when the storm ranked as a mammoth Category Five hurricane on a one-to-five scale. But although weakened, Isabel remains dangerous and continues to down trees and power lines, flood communities that lie in its path, and damage homes and businesses.

Isabel is heading further west than forecasters had anticipated, and it appears that Washington will be spared a direct hit from the storm, which plowed through southern-central Virginia early Friday.

Earlier, Isabel's extensive rain bands pummeled coastal communities from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Ocean City, Maryland. Officer Jimmy Barnes of the Virginia Beach police department says the damage he has witnessed is extensive.

"[There is] a lot of wind damage, trees on houses, trees on cars, widespread power outages. Obviously our beachfront is being heavily pounded with sand blowing over our boardwalk," he said.

President Bush has declared a disaster in both North Carolina and Virginia, making the states eligible for emergency federal aid. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross has issued urgent pleas for blood and financial donations.

Thursday, Isabel forced the delay or cancellation of nearly one-in-five domestic U.S. flights. Further delays and cancellations are expected later Friday. For a second consecutive day, schools and federal offices in Washington are closed.