By Ed Brock and Trina Trice
As Hurricane Isabel bore down on the Eastern coastline, about 20 tractor-trailers of generators and other supplies rolled out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Territorial Logistics Center for the Eastern United States at Army Fort Gillem this week. They were bound for Army Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
"That's a good location because it's close to the effects of the storm ? but it's not in harm's way," said FEMA Public Affairs Officer Mary Hudak.
Trucks from the center also went to South Carolina to provide locals with supplies and emergency equipment in advance of Hurricane Isabel. The trucks will deliver their cargoes to staging areas near the anticipated site of the hurricane's landfall.
From those locations, Hudak said, FEMA can send necessary equipment and aid to areas affected by the storms and where the local authorities need help.
"If the local government doesn't have the resources then they go first to the state government and the state government comes to us," Hudak said.
The cargo contains provisions such as blankets, cots, plastic sheeting for roofing, drinking water, ice and generators. The generators will support critical facilities such as emergency shelters, operations centers, hospitals, water treatment and sewage plants, and schools.
FEMA is always on alert during hurricane season, Hudak said, and they have been monitoring Isabel since the storm formed near Africa.
"We knew this storm had some potential to be fierce," Hudak said.
Direct Medical Assistance Teams, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, left Fort Gillem for the area where Isabel was expected to make landfall Thursday morning around North Carolina and Virginia.
The American Red Cross chapter in metro Atlanta is also preparing to help by encouraging local residents to donate money to its depleting Disaster Relief Fund.
"We definitely need contributions," said Sharena Summerall, spokesperson for the Atlanta chapter. "The (fund) balance is fluid. There's money coming in but there's always money coming out."
Summerall insists that financial donations are more cost effective than sending food and clothing.
"It actually costs more to pay for processing items and storing them," she said.
As Jeff Myers, a disaster specialist at the South Metro Service Center of the Atlanta chapter of the American Red Cross, gathers volunteers that will stand by in case Isabel strikes hard, traffic streamed inland from the Outer Banks on Wednesday as residents and visitors flee the hurricane. Thousands more were ordered to evacuate in Virginia.
Isabel was a strong Category 2 storm Wednesday, with sustained wind near 110 mph, weakened from the weekend when it had 160 mph wind and held the top Category 5 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
Forecasters predicted little change in strength before landfall for Isabel, the biggest storm to hit the region since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
"Right now, the forecast calls for it to maintain the intensity it's at currently," meteorologist Bill Read said at the National Hurricane Center.
About 100,000 people along the North Carolina coast had been urged to evacuate before the storm reaches land sometime Thursday morning along the Outer Banks, where rough surf already was pounding the thin, 120-mile-long chain of islands.
Krissy Williams, a meteorologist with the hurricane center, said Isabel was expected to bring storm surge flooding of 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels.
In addition to the civilian evacuations, about 6,000 military personnel and their families on or near Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., were ordered to leave.
Navy ships manned by 16,400 sailors headed out to sea from Norfolk, Va., and Earle, N.J., to ride out the storm and keep from being battered against their piers. Military aircraft were flown to airfields inland.
At Atlantic City, N.J., Miss America Pageant officials said they were prepared to postpone Friday's Boardwalk parade and even the pageant itself on Saturday, if necessary.
People traveling to and from parts of the East Coast later this week will be allowed to alter their plans without penalties as several airlines and Amtrak eased reservation policies ahead of Hurricane Isabel.
By Tuesday afternoon, no carriers had announced flight cancellations.
Amtrak canceled some passenger and auto trains in the Southeast on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as a Washington, D.C.-bound train leaving from Chicago on Wednesday. Some trains that were to travel north from Richmond, Va., will instead leave from Washington.
Passengers can get a refund or reschedule at no charge.
American Airlines said customers flying in and out of six states, as well as the nation's capital, through Sept. 23 will be allowed to change the date or time of their flights at no extra charge. The states covered are Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Virginia.
US Airways announced a similar policy change for customers who will be traveling to and from North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. The Arlington, Va.-based carrier's waiver applies to travel scheduled through Friday.
The waiver also applies to US Airways customers scheduled to fly to the Bahamas before Thursday and to Bermuda before Sept. 28.
In the event of a flight cancellation because of the hurricane, US Airways said customers will be allowed, at no extra cost, to book an alternate flight, reschedule travel up to seven days later or receive a refund for the full value of the ticket.
JetBlue Airways, meanwhile, said customers scheduled to fly before Friday will be allowed to change their itinerary with no fee or fare increase, as long as they fly by the end of Saturday. Beyond that, the change fee will be waived, but any fare increase will apply.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.