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Isabel knocks out power to nearly 2 million

Downgraded to tropical storm

A tree uprooted Isabel struck houses in Richmond, Virginia, Thursday night.
A tree uprooted Isabel struck houses in Richmond, Virginia, Thursday night.

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CNN's Susan Candiotti reports on the effects of Isabel on Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
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CNN's Jeff Flock reports on Isabel's progression over Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
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CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports on the advance of storm Isabel on Virginia Beach, Virginia.
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At 11 p.m. EDT Thursday Position:  35 miles west of Richmond, Virginia
Latitude: 37.7 degrees north
Longitude: 78.0 degrees west
Top sustained winds: near 65 mph (105 kmh)
Map: Projected path
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(CNN) -- Isabel was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Thursday after knocking out power to nearly 2 million homes in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland and dumping heavy rain on much of the northeastern United States.

At 11 p.m. EDT, Isabel was centered about 35 miles west of Richmond, Virginia, moving north-northwest near 23 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. Maximum sustained winds were 65 mph.

"The storm is expected to weaken and move on later tonight to Washington -- which already is experiencing 50 mph wind gusts," said CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano. From there the storm's center is forecast to move into Pennsylvania and make a straight path to Rochester, New York, Marciano said.

U.S. government offices in Washington will remain closed Friday, officials from the Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday evening. (Full story)

The Hurricane Center canceled all hurricane warnings and issued a tropical storm warning north of Currituck Beach Light, North Carolina, to Moriches Inlet, New York, including Chesapeake Bay, the tidal Potomac River and Delaware Bay.

Isabel knocked out electricity to more than 1 million Virginia customers, according to Dominion Virginia Power. "We've got a long night ahead of us," company spokesman Jim Norvelle said. Outages are growing and the damage will be a "multi-day" repair, officials said.

In North Carolina, authorities said about 426,000 customers were without power. In Maryland, about 430,000 customers had no electricity, according to a state emergency official.

President Bush declared North Carolina a major disaster area, clearing the way for federal aid to the storm-battered state.

The governors of Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have declared states of emergency.

In a news conference late Thursday, Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. said schools and state government offices will be closed Friday.

"Flash floods will be our number one fear over the course of the weekend," Ehrlich said. "To the extent folks can stay off our roads, they will help our local police, our state police -- all of our police agencies."

According to the governor, efforts to restore electricity will begin in earnest once the storm has passed and its safe for repair crews to work.

3 deaths blamed on Isabel

Three deaths have been attributed to the storm. A motorist died on Interstate 95 north of Richmond, Virginia, after a vehicle hydroplaned in heavy rain, according to state emergency officials. Virginia officials at the state's emergency operations center are checking reports of other storm-related deaths.

An electrical worker, Harold Anderson Jr., was electrocuted after attempting to make repairs at a substation in Morehead City, North Carolina. He died at a hospital.

North of Annapolis, Maryland, one person was killed when a tree or power line pole fell on a car, a state emergency spokesman said.

At least 16,000 residents had sought safety from the storm in Virginia shelters, the officials said.

With 100 mph winds, the storm made landfall about 1 p.m. EDT near Drum Inlet, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the hurricane center reported.

Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 345 miles. Forecasters said the storm could dump 6 to 10 inches of rain along its path, and warned that hurricane-force winds could reach inland hundreds of miles from the North Carolina landfall.

Isolated tornadoes over eastern Virginia and southeastern Maryland are a threat throughout the night, forecasters said.

The hurricane center said a storm surge of 2 to 4 feet above normal, "along with extremely large and dangerous battering waves," could still occur along the Atlantic coast within the tropical storm warning area.

Other developments

• The National Guard is attempting two rescues in the waters of Chesapeake Bay, said Dawn Eischen of Virginia's department of emergency management. One is a family of six who were stranded on a boat near Gloucester County. Another rescue is under way near York County, she said.

• On Pea Island, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, three emergency workers who were sent to rescue three stranded men trapped on the roof of their vehicle became stranded themselves, a Coast Guard spokesman said. All six men are now safe, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Buddy Dye said. Officials said the life-threatening situation could have been avoided if people had followed days-old warnings to evacuate the barrier islands.

• As many as 2,000 airline flights were canceled Thursday, and hundreds more were rerouted around or over the hurricane. The Federal Aviation Administration said Washington's two main airports, Reagan National and Dulles International were closed. Also shut down were Virginia's Richmond International Airport and Norfolk International Airport, FAA officials said. (Full story)

• In Calvert County, Maryland, south of Baltimore, authorities ordered residents and businesses in several areas along Chesapeake Bay to evacuate. Storm surges in Chesapeake Bay and some of the rivers that empty into it could reach 4 to 8 feet above normal tides, forecasters said.

CNN's Patty Davis, Jeff Flock, Kathleen Koch, Beth Lewandowski, Bryan Long, Barbara Starr and Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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