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Evacuations ordered north of us
Ike gaining strength
hanna thur after
Hana's forecasted route - photo by NOAA map

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Some Southeastern states declared emergencies and officials urged residents to head inland Thursday as Tropical Storm Hanna headed toward the Atlantic coast, where it could bring high winds and rain from South Carolina all the way to Maine.

Meanwhile, disaster planners cast a wary eye to a suddenly ferocious-looking Hurricane Ike strengthening in the Atlantic. And with power outages and other problems from Hurricane Gustav still lingering in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other relief groups could soon find themselves juggling fallout from three storms.

Rain and wind from Hanna could start as early as Friday night in the South, where some residents shuttered houses and stocked up on food and sandbags, coastal parks closed and schools canceled events and changed sports schedules.

Officials did not order people from their homes in advance of the storm, which was expected to make landfall early Saturday.

The governors of Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency, freeing up state resources for storm response. South Carolina opened several emergency shelters and restricted port hours and Gov. Mark Sanford urged people to leave flood-prone areas and mobile homes in two northern counties by Friday afternoon.

In North Carolina, schools prepared to open shelters and officials planned to close ports Friday. Gov. Mike Easley urged residents to listen to forecasts because the path of the storm could change.

"No, you're not in the clear if you're not in the track we talked about today," he said. "You're in the clear after the storm goes through and didn't bother you. Everybody needs to pay attention."

Still, some coastal residents scoffed at what appeared to be a storm that could hit as a low-level hurricane after killing at least 61 people in Haiti.

Instead, they turned to the next worry brewing in the Atlantic: Ike, which strengthened quickly from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday. Forecasters said it was too early to say if and where Ike might threaten land.

"Ike is a very scary storm," said Mike Hughes, spokesman for a North Carolina power company that closely tracks hurricanes as they head through the Atlantic.

The latest storms come on the heels of Gustav, whose aftermath had Louisiana residents living in shelters and without power. Aid agencies now face the task of trying to assist everyone potentially at risk from all the storms.

In 2004, David Paulison, then the preparedness director and now the chief of FEMA, said three major hurricanes in just over a month had strained — but did not ultimately hobble — the agency's resources and staffing.

On Thursday, FEMA officials said they prepared in advance for this season, sending teams to Louisiana while others planned for Hanna.

The American Red Cross was moving supplies, equipment and people into areas Hanna might affect, said spokesman Pat McCrummen. McCrummen said the organization has distributed 3.5 million meals to people affected by Gustav and supplies for the East Coast were in nearby warehouses.

Hanna chugged just east of the Bahamas Thursday with winds near 65 mph, though forecasters said it could return to hurricane strength Friday before reaching the U.S. coast.

A hurricane watch was issued for Edisto Beach, S.C., north to Ocracoke Inlet, N.C., while a tropical storm watch was issued from Edisto Beach south to Altamaha Sound, Ga.

South Carolina planned to send 70 state troopers to monitor traffic along evacuation routes. The state National Guard said its troops were not asked to assist and would likely be released from duty. But in Charleston, south of where the storm was expected to hit, officials passed out 10,000 sandbags and urged residents in low-lying areas to head inland.

Few homes were boarded up, but vacationers in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., hastily packed bags.

"We've seen people boarding up today and the Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead and decided it was time to go," said James Collins, of Cadillac, Mich.

Hundreds of miles north, emergency managers in New England also planned for Hanna, which forecasters said could hit this weekend with heavy rain and strong winds. In Providence, R.I., workers cleared storm drains and stocked up on sandbags and residents were urged to stock up on batteries and first aid supplies.

In Massachusetts, emergency managers also kept a close eye on the storm track.

"If nothing else it's a good dress rehearsal for Ike if Ike were to come," said Peter Judge, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

In Kure Beach, N.C., a few houses, a trailer and a real estate office were boarded up and the town hall had metal storm shutters.

Jimbo Andrews nursed a soda at a local watering hole where bartender Kassie Jones made plans for a Friday night hurricane party. Andrews said he keeps hurricane supplies at his house year-round and planned to leave if Ike hit.

As for Hanna? It looked to get him out of some weekend yard work.

"No sense in going to the trouble when you got a storm coming," he said.


Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson, Estes Thompson and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh; Page Ivey, Susanne M. Schafer and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C.; Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C.; and Karen Testa in Boston contributed to this report.

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