MID-ATLANTIC BATTENS DOWN FOR FELIX SHIPS GO TO SEA, TRAINS CANCELED

MID-ATLANTIC BATTENS DOWN FOR FELIX SHIPS GO TO SEA, TRAINS CANCELED

Ship and train operations were disrupted Wednesday as ports along the East Coast made last-minute preparations for Hurricane Felix.

As the storm approached the mid-Atlantic region, vessels ran to the open ocean, ports sandbagged piers, and Amtrak canceled coastline services. While hoping the storm would diminish in strength, transport officials said they needed to prepare for the worst. The preparations, warranted or not, are likely to hamper the normal flow of traffic through the weekend.Ship captains chose to ride the storm out at sea, creating a backlog of vessels that will have to be unloaded over the weekend.

Amtrak passenger trains running between New York and Florida were canceled Wednesday because of the threat of flooding, the potential for trees falling across tracks and signal problems.

"Vessels don't want to be in port when Felix comes," said Joseph Dorto, general manager of Virginia International Terminals Inc. at Norfolk, Va. "So we'll be backed up for the weekend. It'll be the same situation in Charleston, Baltimore and New York."

He said, "we finished working the last barge (Wednesday) morning," and it was en route to Baltimore.

"There are no ships in our berths and we're tying down the cranes," Mr. Dorto said. "We're lowering the stacks of containers to one or two high. We also put sandbags all around the warehouses and piers in case of flooding, for the surge."

The U.S. Navy carrier America and the rest of the fleet left Norfolk to ride the storm out at sea. NASA technicians battened down the hatches on the five- story Conestoga rocket poised atop a launch pad at the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Amtrak said that in the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston, if winds exceed 50 mph, Amtrak wouldn't open its drawbridges, which would mean marine traffic could be blocked in those areas.

The Coast Guard ordered Norfolk's shipping channel closed Wednesday as the slowing-moving Felix menaced 150 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C. Felix was moving north-northwest at 12 mph, and was expected to strike early Thursday morning or afternoon, said a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Services.

On Hatteras Island, residents double-tied boat moorings, nailed boards over their house windows and braced for the worst as Felix headed toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Closer to the storm's expected path, Morehead City Terminal operated on a minimum basis Wednesday and workers put the finishing touches on storm preparations. The port expected the worst of the weather to hit overnight, said Karen Fox, spokeswoman for the North Carolina State Ports Authority.

Further south, the Wilmington Terminal was fully open for business Wednesday

because the hurricane warning designation was lifted for the area.

"We know the weather will get worse but not as bad" as once expected, said Ms. Fox.

At the Port of Charleston, S.C., "some ships will want to stay in a little longer, depending on their route, and some will be delayed getting in," said Anne Moise, spokeswoman for the South Carolina State Ports Authority.