- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Ophelia lashed the North Carolina coast with high wind and heavy rain yesterday, beginning an anticipated two-day assault that threatened serious flooding.

With the slow-moving storm expected to produce up to 15 inches of rain in places, Gov. Michael F. Easley told people to get out of the storm’s path.

“If you have not heeded the warning before, let me be clear right now: Ophelia is a dangerous storm,” the governor said from Raleigh, warning of storm surges that could reach 11 feet.

As it brushed the coast, Ophelia ripped away one barrier island street and chased emergency personnel to shelter. The storm had sustained winds of 85 mph yesterday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Hurricane warnings covered the entire North Carolina coast from the South Carolina line to Virginia, where a tropical storm warning covered the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

Ophelia was moving northeastward at just 7 mph after following a looping, meandering course along the coast since it formed off Florida.

Authorities expected the storm’s passage across North Carolina to take about 48 hours from the start of rainfall on the southeastern coast Tuesday afternoon to the storm’s anticipated exit off the Outer Banks and back into the Atlantic late today.

At 9 p.m. yesterday, the center of Ophelia’s large eye remained about 35 miles southwest of Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks. Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extended 50 miles out from the center and forecasters said some strengthening was possible.

More than 12 inches of rain fell yesterday on Oak Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, said meteorologist Jeff Orrock with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

After the criticism of its response to Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had 250 workers at the scene, a larger-than-usual contingent given Ophelia’s size. FEMA also put Coast Guard Rear Adm. Brian Peterman in command of any federal response the storm may require.

The governor said he had spoken to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and that National Guard teams were prepared to evacuate sick, frail and elderly residents.

Nearly 52,000 homes and business had lost power in eastern North Carolina, Mr. Easley said.

Wind gusts reaching 84 mph prompted Carolina Beach to pull emergency personnel off the roads, town spokeswoman Valita Quattlebaum said.

On Ocean Isle Beach, a 50-foot section of beachfront road was washed out by heavy surf and the only bridge to the barrier island was closed. Police had evacuated to an off-island safe house Tuesday.

Evacuations had been ordered along parts of the exposed Outer Banks islands. In the Pamlico Sound area, officials worried about flooding in locations that were devastated by high water after previous storms.

Residents of the Outer Banks were warned that Ophelia could bring 10 hours of hurricane-force wind to exposed Hatteras Island.

“It’s an island. The water will come over, it’ll go out, and we’ll do it all over again,” said lifelong Buxton resident Tiffany Bigham, 27, after she had finished boarding up her living room windows. She planned to ride out the storm along with family and friends.

“You grow up knowing it’s a part of life” she said.

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