Isabel was a ‘hit’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Editor’s note: For today and Jan. 1, 2004, the Suffolk News-Herald will look back at the major stories that affected the residents.

By Stephen H. Cowles

Suffolk News-Herald


Email newsletter signup

Few, if any, places in Suffolk were untouched by Hurricane Isabel on Thursday, Sept. 18. While many people were fortunate enough to have only cleaned up twigs and branches the next day, dozens of residents throughout the city had entire trees come crashing down on their lawns, cars and homes.

Almost miraculously, no one died here as a direct result of the storm, which had gusts measuring upwards of 64 miles per hour at one point. Laura and James Edward Alston were among those lucky ones to survive a huge tree falling though the roof of their home. A day or two after the storm, Mrs. Alston said that she and her husband were seated on opposite sides of their den that night when the tree fell across the front bedroom and into the room where they were sitting.

&uot;The tree dropped and tilted toward me and then stopped as if a big hand kept it from coming any further,&uot; Laura said. &uot;I then went to reach for my husband and saw him coming out from under a pile of ceiling that had fallen with the tree.&uot;

Not only did fallen trees drive people out of their houses, but also obviously made major roads impassable; worse, power lines also fell to Isabel’s strength, knocking out power for about 90 percent of Dominion Virginia Power’s 107,400 customers – 94,000 homes in the Chuckatuck district, which included not only parts of Suffolk, but also Portsmouth, and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Surry. By late Thursday afternoon, 1.1 million customers were without power in Suffolk and much of the surrounding Hampton Roads region.

Only three weeks after Sept. 18, and already 99 cities and counties had been declared disaster areas; there were 66,310 applicants registered for assistance; $18,082,771.81 approved for individual and household assistance.

But applying for and receiving financial aid are often two different things. Problems in communication evidently were the source of state or federal governments’ failures to come through, according to 2nd District Rep. Ed Schrock of Virginia Beach. During mid-October, Shrock and fellow lawmakers U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd District, and U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-4th District, appeared at congressional field hearings in Norfolk and Chesapeake.

Suffolk City Manager Steve Herbert testified that the city had to resort to outside sources for ice and generators.

All in all, damages caused by Isabel were calculated at $715 million by early to mid-October. But had Suffolk not been as prepared as it was, things could have been much, much worse.