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Isabel shuts down Washington

Congressional hearings canceled

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Initial winds from Hurricane Isabel ruffle flags around the Washington Monument on Thursday.
Initial winds from Hurricane Isabel ruffle flags around the Washington Monument on Thursday.

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CNN's Wolf Blitzer reports on preparations for Hurricane Isabel in the U.S. capital.
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CNN's Jeff Flock is in the wind and rain of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
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Much that is known about Isabel comes from U.S. Air Force 'hurricane hunters' who fly into the thick of the storm.
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CNN's Kathleen Koch is in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where Isabel's winds were gusting at 60 mph.
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Hurricane Isabel
Federal Government

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's capital weathered Monica, Gennifer and Fanne, but Isabel may be more than it can handle.

The federal government was shut down for a second consecutive day Friday because Hurricane Isabel, a powerful storm that moved ashore on the southern banks of North Carolina and headed on a path that could send it over the capital by Friday morning.

Concerned with the safety of commuters, the city's transit system shut down its bus and rail service at 11 a.m. Thursday, citing the threat posed by high winds and heavy rains.

That move in part prompted the federal government to close its offices. Later it said offices would remain closed Friday.

The Office of Personnel Management estimated that for executive branch offices the cost of the shutdown is between $63 million and $67 million a day. That does not include costs associated with federal court closings or the suspension of business on Capitol Hill.

Area schools also closed for the day Thursday, and many businesses posted signs announcing their intent to close early.

The storm posed a different sort of challenge to a city used to political disasters, such as the scandal involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (preceded by allegations of an affair from Gennifer Flowers) or the escapades of a stripper and congressman as was the case in 1974 with Fanne Fox and former Rep. Wilbur Mills.

While Washingtonians awoke to a mild day -- gray and overcast, but no precipitation -- the weather was expected to worsen throughout the day with wind gusts of up to 60 mph and between six to 10 inches of rain.

"Something that most people may not realize is that more than 50 percent of the deaths in a hurricane occur because of flooding, and right now the entire Eastern Seaboard -- all the way from North Carolina up through New Jersey and New York -- the ground is just saturated," Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"So, if Isabel comes onboard, hits land with a lot of rain, which we expect her to do, there's a very good chance of flooding and that's going to cause a lot of problems," Brown added.

Congressional hearings were canceled, and the House and Senate held sessions in name only with few signs of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

President Bush headed to Camp David a day earlier than planned because of the storm. He was meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

At a news briefing Thursday morning with the visiting monarch, Bush joked about the storm.

"We have some serious discussions today and then we'll have a nice lunch and then we'll batten down the hatches and spend a good evening with our friend," Bush said.

The president described the government as "well prepared" for the storm, saying that the Department of Homeland Security was in close contact with state emergency preparedness offices.

At the White House, workers secured items that might be blown away by the storm. "This could include flags," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday. "It could also include the awnings around the complex."

At the Pentagon, a team of military disaster assistance experts was on standby to coordinate any military aid that local and state governments might need.

CNN's Barbara Starr and Louise Schiavone contributed to this report.

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