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Heavy Rain Prompts Flood Warnings From NC To NY

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NORFOLK, Va. — A drenching, wind-driven rain lashed much of the Atlantic seaboard Thursday, flooding streets, closing schools, roads and bridges and causing at least five deaths.

The torrential rains and winds gusting more than 30 mph were the work of late-season Tropical Storm Ida, which quickly weakened once it made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast on Tuesday but still soaked a swath of the Southeast.

Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine declared a state of emergency and officials urged people in some areas to stay home. Rain and resulting floods were predicted to continue at least through Friday, especially along the state's southeastern coast and particularly in Norfolk, a coastal city of a quarter-million people. A state of emergency also took effect in Cape May County in New Jersey Thursday evening.

Officials Norfolk on Chesapeake Bay were watching the incoming tide closely, as winds pushed water inland and threatened to cause more flooding late Thursday or early Friday. Heeding Kaine's advice, many residents weathered the storm at home. Many roads were inches or feet under water.

"It's miserable but no life or limb in danger," said Bob Batcher, a spokesman for Norfolk's emergency services.

About 70 people showed up at three shelters opened for the storm.

Some hardy residents ventured out in the stinging rain, leaning into gusting winds as they walked. The few restaurants that were open were empty or, like Granby Street Pizza, busy with takeout.

"We do very well in the rain. We do a lot of deliveries," said owner Peter Freda as hot pies were stacked on the counter for delivery.

A few blocks down abandoned Granby Street, normally a busy stretch of bars and restaurants, Glenn Goodman, 48, found a sports bar that appeared to be open, only to have a server lock up as he reached for the door. The city resident eats out each night, and this was his third or fourth stop.

"If you know what roads to take, it's not that bad. You just don't try to drive through big puddles," he said.

Three motorists died in weather-related crashes in central and eastern Virginia, said Corrine Geller, state police spokeswoman. In New York City, a 36-year-old man surfing at a beach died after getting caught in pounding surf churned up by the storm. In North Carolina, an elderly man standing in his yard was killed when a pine tree was snapped off by strong winds and fell on him, the fire department said.

Some motorists in Virginia were rescued from their cars after getting stuck in high water. Flooding closed several area streets, bridges and a major tunnel as winds worsened high tides that were already 6 to 7 feet above normal in the state.

Dominion Power reported more than 77,000 customers without electricity in Virginia and North Carolina, with nearly 70,000 of them in southeast Virginia. Most Hampton Roads schools and universities canceled classes, and many businesses closed for the day.

The Port of Hampton Roads closed Thursday afternoon. The Norfolk Naval Station and all other area Navy installations, Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis trimmed operations down to essential personnel, officials at the bases said.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials suspended a search for three commercial fishermen whose boat sank in churning seas 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey. A spokeswoman says there are no plans to resume searching Friday morning, when conditions are expected to be even worse. Officials were bracing for tidal flooding along the shore.

In North Carolina, thousands lost power for a time during the deluge, flood warnings were posted from the mountains to the coast, and some roads closed.

The Coast Guard on Wednesday plucked two people from a sailboat off the North Carolina coast, where seas had churned and winds gusted near 30 mph. The National Weather Service said Thursday rainfall in some places on the coast was near 6 inches.

In South Carolina, state health officials blamed the heavy rains for overwhelming sewage plants in the Columbia area, dumping some raw sewage into three rivers.

In suburban Atlanta, streets and yards that border the Chattahoochee River filled with water as the river spilled over its banks from the rain. The area is still waterlogged from historic flooding in September, which swamped homes and businesses.

In Delaware, power outages were reported and at least 2 inches of rain had fallen in parts of the state. Some low-lying areas were already flooded, and wind gusts were as high as 55 mph.

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Associated Press Writers Jack Jones in Columbia, S.C., Dorie Turner in Atlanta, Sue Lindsey in Roanoke, Va., Dena Potter, Michael Felberbaum and Zinie Chen Sampson in Richmond and Sarah Brumfield in Washington contributed to this story.

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