Is Isabel Due? Not Too Early to Talk of Her

By ALEXIS TONTI

Do not panic. Check your flashlights and buy extra batteries for the radio. Stock up on water and nonperishable foods. Make sure you have first aid supplies. And if you own a boat, get it out of the water.

These are the measures Island officials advise as Hurricane Isabel closes in on the East Coast. Though the storm probably will not hit the Vineyard directly, Islanders are keeping a close eye on its projected track: The storm is large enough that the Island will experience high winds and rough waters, regardless of its course.

"If you're not prepared, then you're negligent," said Edgartown harbor master Charlie Blair. "We have to pretend that it's coming and it's going to be nasty."

As the Gazette went to press this morning, forecasters with the National Weather Service were predicting Isabel would make landfall between North Carolina and New Jersey, as a Category 2 or 3 storm, late Thursday or early Friday.

Forecasters warned, however, that given the storm's acute angle of approach to the East Coast, a small deflection in its path would mean a big change in the location of its landfall. The storm was not predicted to reach the Vineyard's latitudes until Friday, when peak winds were expected to fall to 40 knots as Isabel moves inland and away from the ocean.

Vineyard residents so far are wary but calm. Many remember when Hurricane Floyd (1999) and Tropical Storm Eduardo (1996) brushed past the Island with little effect. The lumberyards, hardware stores and supermarkets have seen some anxious customers, but no one yesterday reported a rush. The only hot items are flashlights, batteries, water and plywood.

"Nobody's getting too excited right now," said Edgartown Hardware owner John Montes. "Wait another 24 or 48 hours. If it starts to turn northward, then you'll see something interesting."

In Island waters, however, no one wants to play the waiting game. Harbor masters all urge local boaters to call an early end to summer, and those from other ports to go home. Small-boat owners are privately hauling their boats out of the water, and shipyard phones are ringing off the hook.

Mr. Blair said, "The phones are melting at Edgartown Marine: People want their boats out. They worked until midnight last night and plan to be there until midnight tonight."

Of the reluctant boaters, he added: "Everyone wants to fish in the derby and they want their boats in until October. But we're telling them to get out of here. It is not a nice harbor in either hurricane or tropical storm conditions. They call it the bowling alley, because it's so narrow. One boat breaks loose and it sets off a chain reaction."

In Vineyard Haven, harbor master Jay Wilbur said he wished he were seeing more activity. "From what I can see there's very little chance we'll get anything but a southerly wind. But it will be a hard wind, and we need to be on the safe side. Everyone with a trailer should put their boat on it," he said.

He added a piece of advice for sailboat owners: Take down the roller furling jib, which rolls up like a window shade on the front of the boat. "It creates a lot of windage on the front of the boat, which makes it move around on its mooring in a storm. That's the biggest danger."

Oak Bluffs marina manager Josh Rapaport yesterday fielded questions about a similar concern. "A lot of people are coming in to ask about what size blocks we have on the bottom of our moorings; pretty much everyone will come out of their slips because they don't want to get knocked around."

He added: "Our harbor should be fine unless we get a northeast wind. We're just hoping the Island stays on the outskirts of the storm, maybe just 40 or 50 mile per hour winds."

"There's an awful lot of daylight between now and then, and we're trying very hard to ask people to wait and see," said Phil Hale of Martha's Vineyard Shipyard. "We're working at a fairly rapid clip to make sure any of the boats scheduled to come out of the water are coming out. And we have extra staff lined up and ready to work should we need them."

John McCarthy, emergency management director for the county, listed several preparatory steps to take, particularly for residents along the coastline and other waterways:

* Know the elevation of your house. For those in lowlying areas and less than 20 feet from the water line, listen to radio and television and make plans for emergency measures should the hurricane turn northward.

* Take a walk around the house to check for trees that could fall or loose items that could become projectiles in gale force winds - and try to secure them.

* Check for sufficient supplies of prescription medication.

* Don't forget about your pets; they need food, too.

* Have a battery-powered radio.

* Consider where to evacuate in the event of an emergency. The Red Cross is ready to open shelters, generally located at Island schools. If they do need to open, the locations will be broadcast on WMVY (92.7 FM).

Most towns are holding precautionary meetings today for selectmen, harbor masters and local heads of the police, fire and highway departments to ensure everyone is prepared and on the same page.

"It's too big and too close to ignore," said Peter Martell, emergency management coordinator for Oak Bluffs. "We need to put everything in place and then crank it out as we need it."