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Federal officials prepare to get East Coast planes back in the air

WASHINGTON — After canceling thousands of flights as Hurricane Isabel moved up the Atlantic coast, federal authorities prepared to get the nation's air traffic system back to normal by the weekend.

"I get the sense we're going to be doing a lot better today than yesterday, but we're still going to be seeing the ripple effects of this throughout the country," Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said this morning.

The hurricane led to the cancellation of about 5,700 flights, affecting 20 airports, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said earlier.

Officials suggested customers call their airlines to check the status or flights, or go online to www.fly.faa.gov to check the status of airports.

FAA towers are operating, but airports are contending with high winds, flooding, power outages and airplanes that must be repositioned for their flights, officials said.

Washington's Reagan National Airport remained closed, and airport officials planned to survey how much flooding occurred on the airfield before deciding when to reopen. That decision was expected by noon.

Washington Dulles International Airport remained open through the storm, though airlines had removed their planes before the storm arrived. Commercial flights were arriving at Dulles airport this morning.

All flights were also canceled Thursday at Baltimore Washington International which remained closed today because of power outages.

"Our message is: Don't come to the airport without checking with your airline first," said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Some flights to New York's LaGuardia Airport were delayed Thursday by as much as 13-1/2 hours, and some flights arriving at Philadelphia International Airport were delayed by as much as 9-1/2 hours, the FAA said.

Flight delays also were reported in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta as the problems along the hurricane's path created a domino effect.

Amtrak service on the Northeast Corridor was slowly returning to normal this morning as overnight repair crews removed trees from the tracks and fixed power lines and switches.

Amtrak service south of Washington remained suspended today as did some trains from Chicago to points east. Downed trees on the track caused Amtrak to cancel all service between Harrisburg, Pa., and Philadelphia, as well as some commuter rail service.

Service between Pittsburgh and New York was canceled as Isabel moved through Pennsylvania.