- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (AP) — Vulnerable islands were evacuated and mainland schools were closed yesterday as Ophelia again strengthened to a hurricane and wobbled closer to land with a threat of flooding rain.

The National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm’s status yesterday evening, saying maximum sustained winds had reached 75 mph, with higher gusts. The storm was graded a Category One hurricane, but the center said further strengthening was possible in the hours ahead.

“I don’t really want to mess with it,” Bruce McIlvaine of Logan Township, N.J., said as he packed to leave the Outer Banks’ Hatteras Island before his vacation ended. “You’re on a spit of land a dozen miles into the ocean.”

After taunting coastal residents for days, the storm appeared ready to move ashore, as heavy rain battered South Carolina’s northern coast and the beaches of southeastern North Carolina.

In Carolina Beach, south of Wrightsville Beach, officials reported a foot of water on one road owing to heavy wind and a high tide.

Unlike Hurricane Katrina’s devastating charge at the Gulf Coast, the week-old Ophelia had been following a meandering path, making predictions of its landfall difficult. The hurricane center’s latest forecasts showed it running along the coast, then veering through Pamlico Sound, crossing the Outer Banks and heading back out to sea.

Its slow movement — 4 mph as of 5:30 p.m. EDT — meant heavy rain could linger over land, possibly causing serious flooding. The hurricane center said up to 15 inches of rain was possible in eastern North Carolina.

At least six North Carolina counties ordered mandatory evacuations of some areas, and seven others had voluntary evacuations.

Along the exposed Outer Banks chain, all residents and visitors were ordered to evacuate Hatteras Island yesterday, visitors were 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 in several coastal counties in both North and South Carolina, while classes were canceled at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and East Carolina University in Greenville.

With power outages expected, North Carolina utilities recalled workers they had sent to the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina. North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley said coastal residents should be prepared to go without power for two to three days.

“The bottom line is, we’re definitely going to get flooding, not just on the coast but in low-lying areas as the rivers swell from the storm surge itself,” Mr. Easley said.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford had called for a voluntary evacuation of oceanfront and riverside areas in the northeastern part of his state. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner declared a state of emergency.


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