Remnants of Ernesto cut into summer's last big tourism weekend
RICHMOND, Va. -- The remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto put a sloppy wet damper on the last big tourism weekend of the summer for many people, making a mess of some oceanfront hotels and leaving beaches and boardwalks less crowded than usual.
Ernesto was reduced to an area of rain over western New York state and the lower Great Lakes by Saturday afternoon, after drenching Virginia and North Carolina with up to a foot on its run up the East Coast.
It had caused flooding that forced hundreds of people out of their homes, and more than a half-million homes and businesses still had no electricity Saturday in the mid-Atlantic states. At least four deaths were blamed on the storm in Virginia, plus one in North Carolina.
Hotels in Virginia Beach reported some last-minute cancelations Saturday as the storm apparently led many people to change their plans. Some who decided to tough it out faced oceanfront rooms with carpets soaked by wind-driven rain.
"I've never seen it this severe in all my years here," said Jimmy Capps, manager of the Breakers Resort Inn. "Probably every oceanfront hotel in Virginia Beach has some wet carpet."
Capps said his staff called some guests and told them to postpone their arrival from Friday until Saturday because of the soaked rugs, leaving 23 of the 56 rooms vacant. He said he still hoped to be "close to full" for the rest of the weekend.
Miles Schaeffer, morning manager at the Colonial Inn, said cancelations left 20 of the hotel's 222 rooms vacant Saturday. Guests in oceanfront rooms were told they would have to deal with wet carpets.
"Most people are pretty understanding," Schaeffer said.
Hotel operators said it could have been worse if not for two major weekend events in Virginia Beach: the American Music Festival and the annual Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon.
The music festival started Saturday after Friday's scheduled opening was canceled because of the storm, said Sherri Waghalter, manager of the Virginia Beach Information Center. The marathon, with about 22,000 runners, is set for today.
"I think we'll still have a lot of people coming," Waghalter said.
Casino operators in Atlantic City, N.J., had no complaints. Harrah's Entertainment spokeswoman Alyce Parker said all four of the company's hotels -- Harrah's, Showboat, Bally's Atlantic City and Caesars Atlantic City -- were already booked for the weekend and Saturday's wind and drizzle just kept people on the casino floors.
"People really aren't on the beach," Parker said.
Beach-goers were stymied on the south shore of New York state's Long Island, where swimming was banned at most beaches Saturday because of rip currents. Waves up to 12 feet high caused severe beach erosion.
The storm forced most play at the U.S. Open in Queens to be postponed until today, including matches involving Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi.
In New Jersey, high winds and heavy rain also caused Monmouth Park to cancel its thoroughbred racing card Saturday.
Utility crews were busy restoring services disrupted by the storm.
Dominion Virginia Power reported about 149,000 homes and businesses still blacked out Saturday, down from more than 600,000.
"We're optimistic we're going to have everyone back on by Sunday night," spokesman Dan Genest said.
Maryland's Baltimore Gas & Electric reported more than 77,000 customers still without electricity, down from 150,000 during the storm. Pepco, which serves the Washington area, said about 15,000 customers were still in the dark Saturday and some 40,000 Delmarva Power had no electricity in Delaware and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Other utilities listed about 90,500 customers without power in New Jersey, 70,000 in Pennsylvania and more than 30,000 on Long Island.
Flooding was still a problem Saturday in North Carolina, where the Northeast Cape Fear River was more than 5 feet above flood stage and not expected to crest until Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
"Right now, we're just holding on," said Terry Smith, a supervisor with Duplin County Emergency Medical Services.
Firefighters had already helped evacuate about 20 people from six houses near the river in Chinquapin. About 50 houses were threatened by the rising water, said David Miller, an EMS worker and a captain with the Chinquapin Volunteer Fire Department.
Virginia emergency officials said Ernesto's heaviest rainfall and a tidal surge raked rural communities along Virginia's side of the Chesapeake Bay.
Jeffrey Brown, 37, stayed with his wheelchair-bound father rather than evacuate St. George Island, which juts into the Potomac River where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay.
Three feet of water came into the home, soaking the floors and carpeting that they had replaced after Tropical Storm Isabel, he said.
"I didn't sleep too well last night," Brown said, looking haggard. "It was bad, real bad."