- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Ophelia sat nearly stationary off the coast of the Carolinas yesterday, taunting coastal residents made wary by the destruction that Katrina caused along the Gulf Coast.

The storm was more than 200 miles from land with sustained wind of 80 mph, but it was piling up heavy surf that challenged surfers and pounded the beaches. A hurricane watch remained in effect from just north of Edisto Beach, S.C., to North Carolina’s Cape Lookout, a stretch of more than 250 miles.

Warning of the possibility of coastal flooding, North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley sent 200 National Guard soldiers to staging centers in eastern North Carolina and ordered a mandatory evacuation of tourists visiting fragile Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks, reachable only by ferry. Residents of the island were allowed to stay.

Near Wilmington at Wrightsville Beach, lifeguards with megaphones ordered swimmers out of the water.

“They are saying they don’t want anyone to even touch the water,” Kathy Carroll, 37, of Wilmington, said after abandoning an attempt to bodysurf the waves. “Now I know how a flounder feels. I was getting tossed all over the place.”

Some people stocked up on groceries during the weekend even though Wilmington, on the coast of southeastern North Carolina, had breezy, partly cloudy weather, said Warren Lee, emergency management director for New Hanover County.

With a history of several destructive storms, the county has a well-rehearsed disaster plan. But Katrina, a powerful Category 4 hurricane when it devastated Mississippi and Louisiana, was on residents’ minds even though Ophelia was only Category 1 and had been waxing and waning in strength.

“If it was a Category 4 barreling down here, I would get out if I had a chance,” Mr. Lee said. “The structures just can’t take that kind of wind. We’re cautiously watching [Ophelia]. We’re not giving up until it’s north of us.”

“You never know what is going to happen,” Rose Davane, 41, said while strolling on a Wrightsville Beach pier with her daughter and 18-month-old granddaughter. She said Hurricane Fran in 1996 took everything from her family. “I’m always prepared.”

By 8 p.m. yesterday, Ophelia was centered 245 miles south of Charleston, S.C., and 255 miles south of Cape Hatteras with maximum sustained wind at 75 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. It had meandered slightly but essentially was stationary after following a wandering course since it became a tropical storm Wednesday off the coast of Florida.

Little overall movement was expected before this morning, the hurricane center said.

Ophelia is the seventh hurricane in this year’s busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Peak storm activity typically occurs from the end of August through mid-September.

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