JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - Hurricane Isabel pinwheeled into North Carolina and Virginia with devastating force early yesterday afternoon, then screamed up the Eastern seaboard, knocking out power for more than 2 million people in those two states alone, ripping the roofs off homes, felling trees, and flooding low-lying areas.

The huge storm, covering more than 100,000 square miles, looked like a spiral galaxy in satellite photos as its eye crashed into North Carolina's Outer Banks, its outer ring of clouds sprawled in an arc from Nova Scotia west to southern Quebec, south to Ohio, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and east again to South Carolina.

Its fury surprised even weather-worn veterans, though they were encountering a weakened version, downgraded from the 160 mph, Category 5 behemoth that roiled the Atlantic Ocean a week ago.

"This one was a monster - it's still a monster," said Mark Goodman, director of the Onslow County Emergency Management Center in Jacksonville, about 35 miles southwest of where the storm's large eyewall passed near Ocracoke Island, N.C., between noon and 1 p.m., packing sustained winds of 95 mph and gusts to 105, according to the National Hurricane Center.

3 deaths, heavy damage

Even as the storm carved a path of destruction, there were only three reported deaths attributed to Isabel by mid-evening - a man in Arnold in Anne Arundel County whose car slammed into a tree, a Virginia motorist whose car hydroplaned in heavy rains on Interstate 95 north of Richmond, and a utility employee in North Carolina who was electrocuted while restoring power, authorities said.

High winds blew out the windows of a storm shelter near Elizabeth City, N.C., injuring five people with flying glass.

"I think most people took this storm very seriously," said Terry Bishirjian, a spokesman for the city of Norfolk, Va. "That's one reason why we're seeing so little human damage."

But property damage was another matter.

In rural Tyrrell County (population 4,100), just to the north of Jacksonville, county manager J.D. Brickhouse said, "There's more tree damage than I've ever seen. We have trees through houses, there's not a road in the county that we can get down. We haven't had power since 7:30 this morning."

He said three of the sheriff's five cars were damaged by falling trees and talked of a riverside cottage that "disintegrated." The owner's boat sank, and he was missing, Brickhouse said.

In Virginia Beach, Va., to the north, powerful gusts tore the facade off a beachfront Ramada hotel, as water splashed across the boardwalk, empty of the tourists who usually populate it.

The heavily trafficked Elizabeth River Midtown Tunnel linking Norfolk to Portsmouth was flooded and closed. Officials feared it had structural damage.

"This is the strongest storm I've worked in my 32 years here," said Jim Talbot, deputy coordinator of emergency management in Norfolk.

North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley asked for a federal disaster declaration to make the state eligible for damage assistance - and President Bush, who left the White House Wednesday night for his mountaintop retreat at Camp David, swiftly granted it.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell issued a statewide "disaster emergency" declaration. The governors of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware had already declared emergencies, and the governor of New Jersey said he would.

The storm spread rain across North Carolina and Virginia and into Maryland, Delaware and parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Residents of West Virginia's eastern panhandle - which lies beneath Maryland's western panhandle - were warned by National Weather Service forecasters to expect up to a foot of rain, with 6 to 9 inches predicted for parts of Pennsylvania.

The weather service said that amount of rain, falling on saturated soils in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York, could cause "serious and potentially deadly flash flooding and mudslides."

Officials said flooding could take place along larger rivers, including the Potomac, Shenandoah and the Rappahannock. Closer to the I-95 corridor, rainfall could produce major flooding of streams and creeks.