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Isabel Blamed for At Least 13 US Deaths - 2003-09-19

Tropical storm Isabel is being blamed for at least 13 deaths and extensive property damage along much of the East Coast of the United States. The storm has left millions of people without power.

Even as it continues to weaken Isabel is bringing misery to millions of Americans. The storm is bringing heavy rains and flooding to the states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania after moving through North Carolina and Virginia. Michael Formasa, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, says Isabel had a weak center and as a result had a wide impact.

"Isabel was a large storm. It moved inland rather quickly and picked up speed. The convection went into bands away from the center and it did not concentrate in one spot," he said.

President Bush has declared a disaster in the states of North Carolina and Virginia making both states eligible for emergency federal aid. Even though Isabel did not directly strike the Washington D.C. area, the storm caused extensive flooding in the region and the federal government remains closed for a second day.

Isabel was the strongest hurricane to develop so far in this years Atlantic and Caribbean season. At one point Isabel was a category five storm on a scale of one to five. While it weakened considerably by the time it struck the North Carolina coast on Thursday Isabel was still considered a category two storm, a major hurricane. Authorities urged more than 100,000 people to evacuate coastal areas as Isabel approached and they say many did so possibly averting a major disaster. Michael Formasa of the National Hurricane Center says the public has learned to pay attention to hurricane warnings.

"A category two hurricane is something to be respected," he noted. "It did go on track exactly where said it was, and it also made landfall when we expected. I think the public was wise to heed our warnings on this storm."

Authorities say even though Isabel will largely dissipate in the next 24 hours dangers remain after any major storm passes through an area. The last major hurricane to strike the East Coast of the United States was Hurricane Floyd in 1999. More than 50 people died as a result of the storm, and many were killed in cleanup operations after the storm had passed.