Ophelia swamps North Carolina island
34,000 homes, businesses lose power as storm starts to hit
MSNBC | September 14, 2005
NAGS HEAD, N.C. - Hurricane Ophelia picked up strength as it closed in on North Carolina on Wednesday, soaking the region with a half-foot of rain, washing away a barrier island street and causing power outages.
The storm had sustained wind of 80 mph Wednesday morning, up from 75 mph a few hours earlier, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane warnings were shifted northward, covering the entire North Carolina coast from the South Carolina line to Virginia, where a tropical storm warning covered the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
One side of Ophelia’s eyewall — the circle of strongest wind surrounding the eye — was expected to move along North Carolina’s southeast coast late Wednesday, the hurricane center said.
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Farther up the coast, on the Outer Banks, officials warned that Ophelia could bring 11 hours of hurricane-force wind to exposed Hatteras Island as it gets there Thursday.
Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which made a head-on charge at the Gulf Coast two weeks ago, Ophelia had slowly meandered and waxed and waned in strength since forming off the Florida coast last week, making it hard for some to take the storm seriously.
“If it was that bad, we would leave,” said Charlene Heroux, 46, a 30-year resident of Manteo.
However, the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast prompted others to take Ophelia seriously.
“We got such a dose of it on TV, it’s almost impossible not to be concerned,” said Roger Kehoe, 68, of Yardley, Pa., one of the visitors who left a campground at Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Rain had started falling Tuesday in the state’s southeast corner, and by Wednesday morning Brunswick County had measured 6.5 inches. Meteorologists warned that some areas could get a total of 15 inches as the storm slowly crossed the region.
A 50-foot section of street was washed away by heavy surf at Brunswick County’s Ocean Isle Beach, about 100 miles northwest of the storm’s center, and other streets were under water, emergency officials said. A message at the police department said the island’s bridge to the mainland was closed.
Some 34,000 homes and business were without power in eastern North Carolina, including the entire barrier island community of Kure Beach — population 1,700 — south of Wilmington, Progress Energy reported.
Northeast of Wilmington, Onslow County reported some docks underwater near the New River Inlet and 215 people in shelters.
At 11 a.m. ET, Ophelia’s large eye was centered about 40 miles south-southeast of Wilmington and about 85 miles southwest of Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks. Slight strengthening was possible. Hurricane-force wind of at least 74 mph extended 50 miles out from the center.
Ophelia had accelerated to 7 mph, moving toward the north-northeast. It was expected to gradually turn toward the northeast and pick up a little speed by late Wednesday, with the center making landfall along or just south of the Outer Banks on Thursday, the hurricane center said.
The forecast track had it then moving out to sea.
Along the exposed Outer Banks, everyone was ordered to evacuate Hatteras Island, visitors had been ordered off Ocracoke Island and the National Park Service closed the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Schools were closed and nearly 100 people had checked into a shelter in an elementary school in Wilmington.
Bruce McIlvaine of Logan Township, N.J., was among those who cleared out Tuesday, packing to leave Hatteras Island before his vacation ended.
“I don’t really want to mess with it,” he said. “You’re on a spit of land a dozen miles into the ocean.”
A surfer was missing along the South Carolina coast, with the search suspended because of rough seas.
Ophelia is the 15th named storm and seventh hurricane in this year’s busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.