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Armies of repair crews take on Isabel's damage

Utilities: Some might be without power for week or more

A car sits half-buried on Hatteras Island, North Carolina, the area hit hardest by Hurricane Isabel.
A car sits half-buried on Hatteras Island, North Carolina, the area hit hardest by Hurricane Isabel.

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Power is expected to be out in Virginia for several days.
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A hardware store in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, stayed open as a shelter.
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They call their home 'The Fun House.' CNN's Brian Cabell talks with a family who decided to ride out Isabel.
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(CNN) -- Repair crews in the East Coast states are working to restore power to 3.3 million customers still without power from Hurricane Isabel, as power companies said it would take at least a week to complete the job.

"This will be a marathon, not a sprint," Jimmy D. Staton, senior vice president of Dominion Virginia Power, said in a news release.

About 525,000 customers in North Carolina and 1.8 million in Virginia lost power during the storm. The Virginia total was almost double the number affected by Hurricane Fran in 1996. It took six days to completely restore power after that storm.

As the storm weakened, it moved through several states as a tropical depression, leaving at least 27 dead in seven states. (State by state roundup)

A release from Pepco, which powers the Washington area, including parts of Virginia and Maryland, said "unprecedented damage" would take "a week or more before everyone's service is restored." Pepco reported Friday more than a half-million of its customers were without electricity.

Both companies said they had organized large work forces of repair crews to take on the job and recruited workers from faraway states to help.

Dominion has 7,000 repair workers on the job, Staton said, double the usual number. Pepco said it had more than 700 crews working 12-hour shifts.

In the historic Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, people were using rowboats to reach houses near the city's harbor. Cars on the streets outside were almost completely submerged.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said the flood had done more damage to the city's power systems than Hurricane Floyd did in 1999. He said the city was sending "a virtual flotilla of Dumpsters" into Fells Point to help residents clean out damaged goods.

Damage assessment

North Carolina police said the worst damage was likely on southern Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island, where sustained winds reached 105 mph.

"The worst impact was down in North Carolina along the Outer Banks," Federal Emergency Management Director Michael Brown told CNN. "We've had 4,000 people or so who didn't evacuate; a lot of building collapses, urban search-and-rescue teams in there."

An aerial survey estimated the damage in Dare County, which includes the Outer Banks, at $545 million, with $313 million of that on Hatteras Island, CNN correspondent Susan Candiotti reported.

A helicopter tour over Hatteras revealed roofs ripped from their bases and jutting from the surface of the water. The sole road leading to the town was also under water in several places, cutting off its access to the rest of the world.

In Harlowe, North Carolina, 10 miles inland, Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-North Carolina, toured a one-block area in which dozens of homes suffered major damage and at least six were destroyed when eight- to 10-foot waves leapt over the banks of the Neuce River.

In Kitty Hawk and Nags Head, homes on stilts with boarded windows were no match for Isabel and were left tilted, turned or moved from where they had stood.

The storm swept through the Washington area, downing trees and limbs -- including some at the White House.

In the neighboring suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, the Potomac River surged out of its banks early, flooding streets in the historic Old Town section.

Water quality warnings

About 1.2 million people in four northern Virginia communities are being told to conserve and to boil water used for drinking, washing dishes and food preparation after the region's largest water authority lost power, compromising the water system, authorities say. Officials said they expect to restore clean water service in 48 to 72 hours.

Residents of coastal areas from North Carolina to Virginia were also told to boil water before drinking it because water-treatment facilities had been flooded.

Federal authorities were working to restore normal air traffic. The storm forced closure of airports in Washington, and in Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia. (Full story)

Pentagon officials said Friday that about 40 Navy ships and submarines were expected to start returning to Norfolk on Saturday, four days after they were moved out of the way of Hurricane Isabel, Navy officials said.

CNN's Patty Davis, Jeff Flock, Kathleen Koch, Brian Cabell, Beth Lewandowski, Ed Lavendera, Bryan Long, David Ensor and Gary Tuchman contributed to this report.

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