- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

SALTER PATH, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Ophelia crawled along the North Carolina coast yesterday, prolonging its punishment of the Outer Banks with rain and wind as coastal residents elsewhere returned home to damaged homes and businesses.

Although the weakening storm’s center was expected to stay just off shore, the northern side of Ophelia’s eye wall, the ring of high wind surrounding the eye, could remain over the Outer Banks until midday today, the National Hurricane Center said.

Ophelia was “just beating us to death,” said Alton Ballance, who lives on the Outer Banks’ Ocracoke Island, just south of Hatteras. “It’s similar to the wintertime nor’easters that lay there and beat you for a couple of days,” he said.

Gov. Michael F. Easley said getting a handle on the scope of damage was difficult because of the storm’s slow path, first affecting the state’s southeastern coast on Tuesday and then crawling north and east Wednesday and yesterday to its position off the Outer Banks.

“It’s almost like working three different storms,” Mr. Easley said.

More than 81,000 homes and businesses remained without power yesterday in eastern North Carolina, utility companies said.

It appeared that the mainland had dodged the severe flooding many had feared, but the wind and waves had taken a toll.

“We were not expecting this,” said Laurie Garner, whose boyfriend’s restaurant was severely damaged at Salter Path on Bogue Banks, southwest of Morehead City. “It just beat us and beat us and beat us.”

Ophelia, an erratic storm that has looped and meandered north since forming off the Florida coast last week, stalled early yesterday afternoon, then resumed a drift toward the east-northeast at about 3 mph, the hurricane center said.

Its top sustained wind speed had eased back to 75 mph, barely strong enough to be classified as a hurricane. Because it was weakening and its direction was toward open ocean, a hurricane warning for the North Carolina coast was reduced to a tropical- storm warning, extending from Cape Lookout northward to Cape Charles Light, Va., including the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the hurricane center said.

At 5 p.m., Ophelia was centered about 30 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras and about 60 miles east-northeast of Cape Lookout. It was expected to pick up a little forward speed today, the hurricane center said.

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