New Bern, N.C.
Last night as the eye of Hurricane Gloria came ashore on the Outer Banks about 90 miles from this low-lying community on the Neuse River, residents had already completed an all-too-familiar hurricane drill.
They had taped and barricaded the windows of everything in town -- from Billy's Ham and Eggs to the Ramada Inn. Hundreds of families had made an exodus inland, clogging U.S. 70 for more than 100 miles west, filling almost every hotel room between here and Raleigh.
For those left behind, local officials turned seven schools into shelters, anticipating flooding from the town's two rivers, one of which flows into the Atlantic near where Gloria swirled.
"We've been through hurricanes before, and we know to respect them," said Doris Schwolow, 65, who came with her husband, Ray, to a shelter at MacDonald High School here, carrying such essentials as The New York Times crossword puzzle, sandwiches, blankets and a romance novel.
In the unlikely community born of disasters, the Schwolows, who live in fashionable River Bend, were spending the evening next to Mary Fields, 40, a local timber-plant worker who lives with her two sons in a trailer in town. The Schwolows said they can accept whatever happens, but Fields said her livelihood is at stake: Just weeks ago, she scraped up enough savings to buy her trailer. Today she was forced to abandon it.
"I put all my money into the down payment, everything I had," Fields said, her voice breaking while her boys played nearby. "When I didn't have anything, nothing went wrong. All of a sudden, I have a home, and it looks like I'm going to lose it. The only thing keeping me calm is knowing that if I go to pieces, the children will see me."
Throughout southeastern North Carolina, residents heard minute-by-minute radio reports of Gloria's movement toward them. The bulletins resembled a sports announcer chronicling an excruciatingly slow, but inevitable, touchdown drive.
As torrential rain swept through New Bern last night, residents old enough to remember said the circumstances reminded them of a notorious 1933 hurricane that washed out a local bridge, hurling pieces of it all the way to Ocracoke Island more than 100 miles away. Twenty-one people died in that storm.
Despite the peril, many coastal families refused to leave home. In Atlantic Beach, about an hour's drive from here along the ocean, one barkeeper held a "hurricane party" where die-hard Gloria-defiers held out until late afternoon.
Then, with fishing piers flapping in the water "like loose teeth," as one woman put it, Gov. James G. Martin invoked executive powers to enforce evacuation.
"It's scary to sit here and think of what's coming," said Henry Sermons, Craven County fire marshal. "People are going to die, and other people are going to get hurt. The worst time will be tomorrow when the first light comes through.
"There's a lot of stuff that will happen that in the darkness you won't be able to see. But in the morning, that's when you get right weak-kneed." -- Dale Russakoff Virginia Beach
Rain pelted the resort community of Sandbridge yesterday afternoon as Steve and Judy Berman raced to load their furniture into a rented truck.
"We haven't slept for 36 hours," said Steve Berman, adding that he called half-a-dozen rental agencies before he found an available truck.
The Bermans, who moved into their rented beach house three weeks ago, said they had no flood insurance and were putting their entire household of furniture in storage.
"We survived an earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska, a few years ago," Berman said. "And we'll survive this. But we're not taking any chances."
Emergency service officials said the tiny, picturesque community of Sandbridge, an isolated beach near the North Carolina line where most of the cottages are perched on stilts only a few yards from the ocean, is the portion of Virginia Beach considered most vulnerable to Hurricane Gloria.
All along the 4 1/2-mile-long strip of vacation cottages, the ringing of hammers competed with the pounding of the nearby surf as homeowners boarded their windows. One entrepreneur took to the streets, peddling sheets of plywood.
By late afternoon, the village had become a virtual ghost town. Houses stood empty and boarded, many shored up with sandbags surrounding their first levels.
At the Sandbridge Market, a handwritten sign on the door warned: "Special: Due to Hurricane Gloria we will be closing today at 3 p.m." Cashiers said they had sold out of batteries and masking tape early in the morning. The market's baker said she had cooked an extra supply of coffeecakes for local residents anticipating a night of hungry waiting in inland shelters.
Police closed the roads leading into Sandbridge soon after dusk as lower-lying sections of the twisting roadways began to flood. Police also reported that a handful of families refused to leave their houses.
Several major conventions and tourist events were canceled in the resort area here, including a state convention of rescue squad workers.
"They had to turn the convention center into a shelter," one official said. Although many of the rescue workers returned home, others remained.
City officials also canceled two days of the Neptune Festival, the city's annual tribute to the sea. -- Molly Moore Norfolk
Concern was slow to rise at the Thirsty Camel, an aging bar and grill on Norfolk's Willoughby Spit.
"If I die because you guys want to get drunk before this storm, I'll come back to haunt you," waitress Madeline Smith told the last hardy customers late yesterday afternoon.
As she poured a round of screwdrivers and opened the last Budweiser and Stroh's, Smith worried about more than the Thirsty Camel. Her home up the street, she said, is "right on the beach. It's old."
Smith said Willoughby Spit, a narrow strip of land on the north side of Norfolk along the Chesapeake Bay, was created by a hurricane in the early 1800s.
"That's how Willoughby got here -- a hurricane. So a hurricane could just . . . ," and she waved her hand flat across the beer-stained bar.
At the opposite end of Willoughby Spit, employes of the bayside Neptune Restaurant were putting the last pieces of tape across their mammoth plate-glass windows. "We getting out of here now," one employe said without stopping to give her name.
The Hampton Roads area, where traffic jams normally rival those of Northern Virginia, was flooded not only by rain but also by anxious tourists and year-round residents who began streaming out of the congested area early yesterday afternoon.
At one point, the always-crowded Hampton tunnel reported a 90-minute backup.
Officer Dickie Burnett, reporting traffic conditions on WINS radio (1350-AM), scolded listeners who called the 911 emergency number for apparently frivolous reasons. "People are acting crazy," Burnett said, complaining that some callers reported barking dogs and blowing trash cans. "It's for life and death," Burnett said sternly. He also warned against waiting for an evacuation order "if you've got sense enough to come in out of the rain."
There were scattered mandatory evacuations throughout the Tidewater area, but all mobile-home residents were told to move out quickly. Authorities said mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes or the tornadoes they can spawn. -- Tom Sherwood Ocean City
Tony Russo stood on the rain-slick boardwalk beside his pizza counter, directing five men as they hastily nailed boards across the stand's exposed front. Around him, tourists who had not heeded town officials' warnings to go home strolled the strip, clasping hands and pushing baby carriages.
That was Ocean City yesterday afternoon as Hurricane Gloria headed for the East Coast: streets lined with taped and boarded windows; stores wearing "Closed" signs; heavy traffic on Ocean Boulevard West; a man nonchalantly riding a bicycle up the boardwalk.
"I take these things seriously," said Russo, 44, scowling at the lingering tourists. "The last time we got a big storm here -- 1969 -- me and my boys were the last to leave the boardwalk. The wind was coming up, and the ocean was splashing us, and the only way we got down was by holding on tight to each other's shirts and fighting our way."
In a town where commerce is concentrated on a strip of rapidly diminishing beaches, any large storm is viewed as a threat to livelihood. But a hurricane of Gloria's magnitude could spell disaster for year-round residents such as Russo and for absentee property owners.
Area emergency management officials urged mobile-home dwellers and residents of low-lying areas such as Ocean City and the resort community of Ocean Pines to move to higher ground late yesterday afternoon. But they stopped short of ordering an evacuation.
By 8 p.m., Ocean City was a ghost town, and Stephen Decatur High School was booming.
While a few daring people in wet suits remained to plunge into the metalic gray froth of the Atlantic after dark, an estimated 80 percent of Ocean City's 10,000 residents had left, police said. About 600 of them ended up at the school on Rte. 50, one of four temporary shelters set up in Worcester County public schools.
The polished wood floors of the Decatur gymnasium became a giant campground of sleeping bags, blankets and quilts. A couple ate takeout pizza; a woman with her hair in a kerchief sat cross-legged before a color television set she had brought from home; teen-agers ran through the rain to the nearby McDonald's, one of the only restaurants that stayed open.
Mary Vreeland of Delmarva Park, a mobile home park, fretted about her husband: "He went back to the trailer to get some blankets and check some things and he's not back yet," she said. "I know it's just raining out there now, but at a time like this, I want him right here, forget the blankets." -- Sue Anne Pressley St. Mary's County, Md.
On St. George Island, near the mouth of the Potomac in St. Mary's County, many of the 500 or so residents were getting ready to leave. And at the Evans Seafood restaurant, Tommy Evans and three employes were evacuating fresh-shucked oysters to Baltimore.
"This is liable to be bad," Evans said.
"I'm going with you," said Thomas Barnes, an employe who lives on the island. "You might need some help. I'm willing, today. It might not do nothing, but I'm not taking no chances."
But a short distance up the street, A.J. Cory, 75, said he was staying right where he was -- in front of the television in his sitting room.
"The natives down here aren't going no place," he said. "The city folks might get scared, I don't know. If it gets bad, we might go up to high land, but this thing is liable to blow out tomorrow."
He said Hurricane Hazel blew down the old bridge to the mainland in 1954 -- but there is a new bridge now, and he reckoned he could leave if he had to.
Jerome Moore and his grandchildren were preparing to evacuate to a high school near Leonardtown. "I went through Hazel here," Moore said, "and I stayed right in the house. The water just came up to the top of the doorstep. I tied my boat to the light pole, and if it got bad I was going to use it to go up the highway to high ground." This time, however, Moore put most of his possessions on the second floor of his house. The car was loaded with valuables -- the televisions, the video recorder, the guns and the blankets -- and they were moving out. -- Tom Vesey New York
"Gloria Gives Us the Evil Eye," warned the headline in the New York Post yesterday afternoon.
From Montauk on Long Island's tip, where the stores on Main Street were boarded with plywood, to grocery stores on Manhattan's West side, which were selling out of flashlights, candles and food stocks, New Yorkers went into high gear for Gloria yesterday.
Long Island highways were crowded with boats, as owners towed them inland. Owners of mansions along East Hampton's shores were reported flying in from as far away as Europe to make sure their homes were protected.
City officials said cranes were being secured on construction sites, santitation workers collected trash cans so they wouldn't be blown about, and hospitals were testing generators in case of electrical failures.
On Fire Island, a narrow ocean barrier southeast of the city, more than 2,000 residents were evacuated on orders of Suffolk County executive Peter Cohalan.
"There's a great deal of apprehension," said Patricia Nocher, head of the Suffolk County Red Cross. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing. People want to know how to tape up their windows."
At the Pathmark grocery in Huntington, Long Island, accountant Lynn Liljestrand said customers were buying out paper towels, canned goods, powdered milk, evaporated milk, candles, flashlights and batteries. "We're taking in about $10,000 over what we would make on a normal business day," she said.
At Montauk, population about 3,000, Superintendent Fred Philley of the Montauk Union Free School prepared to receive evacuees. "It's not just the hurricane factor right now," he said. "There's a full moon expected, and the tides could reach eight feet above normal. Just that fact is enough to evacuate." -- Margot Hornblower and Dody Tsiantar