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Hurricane leaves Washington powerless

Prem Panicker in New York | September 19, 2003 10:17 IST
Last Updated: September 19, 2003 10:21 IST

Trivia question: Why are hurricanes inevitably given feminine names?

Could it be that they start off as a gentle, refreshing breeze but, given the least check, are capable of intensifying, spreading ruin and destruction in terrifying fashion?

In New York City as I write this, there is intermittent rainfall and a driving breeze that chills you; fights your intended forward steps if you are walking into it, or speeds up your locomotion if you have it at your back.

The Lincoln Tunnel is like an oversized flute -- even from several blocks away, you could this evening hear the wooooosh of the wind screaming through those closed confines.

The roads, even as early as 8.30 pm, were a litter of footloose garbage, dotted with the skeletons of umbrellas that proved powerless to cope -- and we in New York are not even in the path of Hurricane Isabel.

Washington, DC, is.

And that city -- capital of the United States, the seat of its power and, hence, arguably the most powerful city in the world -- is powerless. Literally.

Around 3 pm Thursday, Isabel's advance guard of high winds had already forced the Chesapeake Bay to shut down to all traffic.

By 6 pm, all flights in and out of Washington airport were cancelled; all public transportation including the Metro bus and rail service and the suburban commuter lines had been shut down. The NY1 television channel reported 2,000 flights had been cancelled across the affected areas.

Schools and offices closed. The most powerful men in the world found all their power nullified as power went out over wide swathes of Washington leaving over 500,000 people in the dark; the federal government eventually shut down.

The eye of Isabel, who came ashore at North Carolina early Thursday afternoon, is expected to pass some 70 to 80 miles west of Washington overnight.

My colleague Aziz Haniffa, National Affairs Editor of India Abroad and one of the half-million currently groping in the Washington dark, reports that it will be two days, maybe more, before the lights go on in DC again.

Close to three quarters of a million people in that region are said to be without electricity; some coastal homes no longer exist; torrential rains bring with it the threat of large-scale floods in a region that is already drenched from a more than ordinarily wet summer.

Weather bureau personnel on television provide the silver lining. One such gent, a while ago, said Isabel has actually been downgraded; apparently when she was out at sea, building up a temper, she boasted wind speeds in excess of 160 mph; we should count ourselves lucky, it is being suggested, that it is only 100 mph now.

Hopefully, the lady won't hear -- the last thing this part of the US needs is a hurricane insulted by its own downgrading, and intent on proving a point.

REQUEST TO US READERS: Please send in your hurricane reports; share with other readers what is happening in your part of the world, and how you are coping with it.

If you need help, ask for it -- we can put that up too, and hopefully connect you with people in your area who can help out.

Email Foreign Affairs Editor Ramananda Sengupta at ramanandas@rediff.co.in


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