Image: Store Fronts Boarded Up In Virginia Beach Prior To The Arrival Of Hurricane Isabel
Contractor Bo Loranger cuts plywood Tuesday for a store front in Virginia Beach, Va., ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Isabel.
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What’s the big deal about Isabel? How does she compare to other hurricanes? Keep reading for answers to those and other storm questions.

Q: Why so much concern about Isabel when she’s hundreds of miles away from the U.S. coast?A: She’s been on a west-northwest course and forecasters are expecting her to hit somewhere between North Carolina and New Jersey on Thursday. And even if she’s not as strong as she once was, she’ll probably still pack winds well over 100 mph, more than enough to do extensive damage.

Joe Sobel, a meteorologist with Accuweather, said areas north of where Isabel makes land would bear the brunt of the storm.

Q: If Isabel is a Category 4 (131-155 mph), how does that compare with other hurricanes in recent U.S. history?A: The last Category 4 to hit the East Coast was Hurricane Hugo in September 1989. Fifty-seven people were killed, and damage in South and North Carolina reached $11 billion. Caribbean islands were hit earlier, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, which saw 29 deaths and $14 billion in damages.

Weaker hurricanes have done similar damage since then:

Floyd (September 1999): Category 2 makes land in eastern North Carolina, causing 77 deaths and $6.5 billion in damage up and down the East Coast.

Georges (September 1998): Category 2 strikes Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys and panhandle, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Sixteen people lose their lives, damage totals $6.6 billion.

Bonnie (August 1998): Category 3 strikes eastern North Carolina and Virginia, causing three deaths and $1.1 billion in damage.

Fran (September 1996): Category 3 strikes North Carolina and Virginia, causing 37 deaths and $5.8 billion in damage.

Opal (October 1995): Category 3 strikes Florida panhandle, Alabama, western Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and the Carolinas, causing 27 deaths and $3.6 billion in damage.

Marilyn (September 1995): Category 2 devastates U.S. Virgin Islands, causing 13 deaths and $2.5 billion in damage.

Iniki (September 1992): Category 4 hits Hawaiian island of Kauai, causing seven deaths and $2.4 billion in damage.

Andrew (August 1992): Category 5 hits Florida and Louisiana, causing 61 deaths and $25 billion in damage.

Q: What was the worst hurricane ever?A: The deadliest was a 1970 cyclone in Bangladesh that killed 300,000 people. In the United States, the deadliest hit Galveston, Texas, on Sept. 8, 1900, when between 8,000 and 12,000 people were killed. The deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, it flattened nearly three-quarters of the island city.

The costliest was Andrew at $25 billion. It made landfall on Aug. 24, 1992, near Homestead, Fla. As many as 250,000 people were left temporarily homeless.

Q: If I live in the expected path of Isabel, what should I do right now?A: Find out if your area has an evacuation route, or plan one yourself. Your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter should also have a preparedness plan to work from. Be ready to drive 20 to 50 miles inland to locate a safe place.

Also, have disaster supplies on hand. These include flashlight and extra batteries, a radio, first aid kit and emergency food and water.

Prepare your property by storing fragile objects, checking emergency equipment and looking into the possibility of boarding up windows.

Q: What should I do when the hurricane hits if I can’t or won’t leave the area?A: Stay inside, away from windows, skylights, and glass doors, and preferably in a basement if you have one. Avoid open flames, such as candles and kerosene lamps, as a source of light. If power is lost, turn off major appliances to reduce power surge when electricity is restored.

Q: Will my insurance cover damage?A: That depends on your coverage. According to the Insurance Information Institute, many insurers in hurricane-risk areas have had to limit their exposure to catastrophic losses by selling policies with percentage deductibles for storm damage instead of the traditional dollar deductible. The percentage, usually between 1 and 15 percent, is based on the home’s insured value.

The institute estimates the value of insured property in hurricane-risk areas along the U.S. coastline at about $2 trillion.

Q: Why are hurricanes often so deadly when everyone knows they’re coming?A: They are far less deadly precisely because the forecasting and tracking has improved. But deaths still do occur, often because some people refuse to leave an area or because a storm makes landfall somewhere different from what the tracking predicted.

Q: What would a hurricane disaster do to local economies that are already struggling? A: The short-run impact would be negative, with businesses shut down and people losing income and possibly jobs. The longer-term impact can be helpful, as in the case of Andrew where the area saw a construction boom that lifted the economy in south Florida.

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