HAMPTON, Va. — Utility crews had restored power Sunday to more than two-thirds of the people who had been without since Hurricane Isabel struck, but isolated price gouging and a general lack of information were starting to wear down residents in the hardest-hit areas.
Long lines formed in many places where there was news of ice or water or hot showers. But at the Red Cross office in Hampton, workers plastered the front doors with signs declaring in double-underlined words: "We do not have ice."
Newport News resident Shawn Williams went to the office to get water for his three young daughters, but all the office had was rice, meat, gravy and pineapple. His money reserves were running low, and he was disgusted to find a local gas station demanding $2.50 a gallon.
"Two days, we thought it was fun. We camped out," said Williams. "Four days is long enough."
Terri Ellis, who was a claims adjuster in Miami in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Andrew, said Virginia's response to Isabel was abysmal. She vented her frustration Sunday at weary Red Cross volunteers, unable to control her anger at being told to call emergency numbers.
"They say, 'Call the emergency management office.' When I get home, I have no phone," she said.
"Where is the assistance from other states?" she asked. "This city is not taking care of anything. Where is the water, where is the ice? I have babies in my neighborhood who yesterday couldn't get any milk."
The city had its own complaints about the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"We've asked FEMA for generators. We haven't gotten them," Newport News Mayor Joe Frank said Sunday. "We've asked them for water, we've asked them for food, we've asked them for ice. So far, we haven't seen any of that."
Frank said the city had to hire trucks to bring ice from Tennessee and Alabama.
FEMA Director Mike Brown was on the defensive.
"We've distributed 650,000 tons of ice down to that area," he said Sunday. "I just find it difficult to believe that we're not meeting someone's needs — if, indeed, they've been articulated to us."
The storm severed electrical service for more than 6 million customers from the Carolinas to New York. By Sunday morning, that figure had been whittled to about 1.8 million.
Virginia was hit hardest by the power loss. The state's dominant provider, Dominion Virginia Power, said it was down to under 900,000 homes and businesses without electricity Sunday.
"It will be multiple days," said Irene Cimino, a spokeswoman for Dominion Power. "We have an enormous task involved here. Parts of our distribution system have to be rebuilt — not restored, rebuilt."
President Bush plans to travel to Virginia today to get a briefing on storm damage and recovery efforts.
The president will visit an emergency operations center at the Virginia State Police Academy and participate in a video conference with emergency management officials and governors from some of the most impacted states, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Sunday.
At least 31 deaths are blamed on the storm, 17 of them in Virginia. North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware were declared federal disaster areas.
About a dozen Navy ships sent out to sea to get them out of the storm's direct path and keep them from being battered against docks returned to Norfolk on Sunday, joining 24 vessels that had sailed back into port the day before. More than 40 ships of the 2nd Fleet had gone a couple hundred miles out to sea, where they experienced swells of up to 16 feet, said Cmdr. Ernest Duplessis.
People were just realizing the full extent of the damage in Maryland, where nearly 600,000 customers were still without power.
Alice Evans, 60, was one of 79 hardy souls who stayed on Smith Island in Chesapeake Bay despite Maryland State Police efforts to talk them into leaving. Evans, one of two teachers on the island, learned Sunday that Isabel had washed books and other materials out of the tiny grade school.
"I hope I never have to face that again," said Evans, who confronted Hurricane Hazel on the island when she was a child.
North Carolina was still reporting more than 130,000 power outages Sunday, and Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said Dominion Power officials said some residents of his county could be a month without power.
"They've just got a large territory to handle. We can only assume that sections at a time will be cut on," Lamb said.
On the Outer Banks, where the only road the length of Hatteras Island was washed out, tourism officials were trying not to think about the immediate future and instead focusing on getting things up to snuff for the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight in December.
"We're going to be standing tall and proud on Dec. 17, 2003, I'll tell you that much," declared Carolyn McCormick, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. "It's the day that changed the travel industry forever. It's a day that changed the world forever. And we're going to be ready for it."
Private insurers estimated damage in North Carolina could exceed $1 billion. In coastal Dare County alone — where dozens of homes in Hatteras, Kitty Hawk and Nags Head were destroyed — officials say it could top $500 million.
The federal government in Washington will be open for business on Monday after being shuttered for two days because of Isabel. Employees were told to report to work on time, said Rusty Asher, spokesman for the Office of Personnel and Management.
More than one-quarter of a million customers were still without service Sunday in the capital and its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.
In Hampton, Michelle Patterson got her power back Saturday night but couldn't afford to buy food because she hasn't been working.
"If I had money, I'd go wait in line," she said. "If you have money in the bank, you can't get to that either."
Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed in Richmond, Dorothy Abernathy in Richmond and Gretchen Parker in Baltimore contributed to this report.