WTVD-NC: Hurricane Irene brings rain, heavy seas to east coast

Anit-Hurricane Irene sayings are painted on John Oliver's boarded up home in Atlantic Beach, N.C., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 as Hurricane Irene heads toward the North Carolina coast. Oliver plans on leaving Friday morning and staying with friends in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
August 26, 2011 1:10:54 PM PDT
Storm likely to come ashore near Cape Lookout around 8 a.m. Saturday as a Category 2 Hurrucane

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Go to WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham, NC for the latest Hurricane Irene information
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While the storm has weakened slightly, a hurricane warning has been extended from North Carolina to New Jersey.

Click here for the ABC11 interactive hurricane tracker

Irene's maximum sustained winds were at 100 mph Friday. Little change in strength is expected by the time she reaches the North Carolina coast on Saturday as a Category 2 storm. The latest track predicts landfall near Cape Lookout around 8 a.m.

In the immediate Triangle area, scattered thunderstorms are expected Friday afternoon with thunderstorms becoming more numerous to the south Friday night. Steadier and heavier rain will over spread the Coastal Plain and eastern Piedmont from the south on Saturday morning. Along and especially east of Interstate 95, there will be between 3 to 5 inches of rain possible with 2 inches or less of rain expected across the eastern Piedmont. The heavy rain may produce some flash flooding.

The strongest winds will be from I-95 eastward, especially across the Outer Banks. Wind gusts will approach 60 mph across the Coastal Plain with gusts up to 40 mph across the eastern Piedmont. Major marine and coastal impacts expected, including storm surge and coastal flooding, high winds, dangerous surf, and rip currents.

Click here for high wind warnings and advisories

Speaking Friday morning, Governor Beverly Perdue warned North Carolinians to take the storm seriously.

"This hurricane is real and it is headed our way," said Perdue. "I urge every citizen along the coastal plains to evacuate."

"We can rebuild homes, but people and families cannot be replaced," she continued.

Perdue has declared a state of emergency for all counties east of I-95. President Barack Obama has approved federal aid to supplement state and local responses to the storm.

Perdue said she spoke with Obama Friday morning.

"The President has assured me the federal government will do their part," said Perdue.

Obama's action means the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

It also means the state is eligible for federal funds to help in cleanup and other needs.

Perdue said the Governor's hurricane hotline is now open. Residents can call (888) 835-9966. The deaf and hard of hearing can call (877) 877-1765. More is also available at www.readync.org

Evacuations

Carteret County declared a State of Emergency with a mandatory evacuation of all visitors and non-residents.

There was a mandatory evacuation of all residents of Bogue Banks. Carteret also suggested a voluntary evacuation for all residents in low-lying areas and people living in mobile homes.

Click here for shelter and evacuation route information

Craven County

Craven County issued a voluntary evacuation for people living in low-lying areas or areas that have a history of flooding. People living in the following locations that are prone to flooding were encouraged to evacuate:

  • Harlowe (Adam’s Creek and Clubfoot Creek)
  • Fairfield Harbor
  • Portions of the City of New Bern (National Avenue, Woodrow and Duffyfield Communities)
  • Sandy Point

Currituck County issued a mandatory evacuation countywide. Re-entry permits will be necessary for residents, property owners, and businesses to access Corolla and Carova Beach. Re-entry permits will not be required for access to the mainland. Citizens who might require evacuation assistance or have special needs should contact Social Services at (252) 619-4425.

Dare County officials ordered all residents to move inland. The mandatory order applied to all 35,000 of the county's year-round residents, not just those on the Outer Banks.

Hyde County also issued a mandatory evacuation for everyone.

New Hanover County declared a state of emergency and strongly encouraged evacuations along the beachfront and other low-lying areas.

North Carolinians hunker down

Traffic was steady Friday as people left North Carolina's Outer Banks before Hurricane Irene.

Pete Reynolds was at a gas station at Nags Head, before he headed to the New Jersey area to stay with their son's family.

The 68-year-old retired teacher says he and his wife, Susan, had planned to ride out the storm at their home until the mandatory evacuation order was issued.

Twenty-seven-year-old John Ramos of New York says he knew he was supposed to leave Thursday, but wanted one more day on the beach before heading for home.

Buxton, N.C., real estate agent Danny Couch owns a bus tour business on Hatteras Island and said he worries about Irene's damage potential in unexpected ways. Not the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or other icons of the Outer Banks, but N.C. Highway 12, the two-lane road that runs up and down the vulnerable barrier island.

That's a lifeline for the community, along with the aged Bonner Bridge, the only connection to the mainland other than two ferries.

"It always the road," he said when asked what he will check when Irene passes. "That's your way in, that's your way out."

Farmer Wilson Daughtry shrugged off an evacuation order and raced to harvest all the corn and squash he could hours before the initial waves churned up by Irene started bumping the state's outer islands.

Daughtry has lost count of how many times his crops have been wiped out by storms that regularly blow up from the tropics.

"That's the price of living in paradise," he said of a fertile farm belt that's weathered an unusually hot and dry summer. Any deluge from Irene's rain bands could wipe out many crops just when they are ready for harvesting.

What's at stake in North Carolina? Latest figures show coastal North Carolina's fields earned nearly $6.3 billion in farm income in 2009 alone from its tobacco, corn and other crops.

Storm projected to continue up East Coast

For hundreds of miles, as many as 65 million people along the densely populated East Coast warily waited Friday for a dangerous hurricane that has the potential to inflict billions of dollars in damages anywhere within that urban sprawl that arcs from Washington and Baltimore through Philadelphia, New York, Boston and beyond.

"One of my greatest nightmares was having a major hurricane go up the whole Northeast coast," Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center's retired director, told The Associated Press on Thursday as the storm lurched toward the U.S. "This is going to be a real challenge ... There's going to be millions of people affected."

The hurricane would be the strongest to strike the East Coast in seven years, and people were already getting out of the way. After dousing the Bahamas, it was again moving over warm Atlantic waters that will energize it.

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were told Thursday to pack a bag and be prepared to move elsewhere. The nation's biggest city hasn't seen a hurricane in decades.

Risks are many from Irene's wrath: surging seas, drenching rains, flash floods and high winds are all possibilities the Federal Emergency Management Agency director wasn't counting out.

"We're going to have damages, we just don't know how bad," Craig Fugate told AP as FEMA readied plans in many states. "This is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time."

Latest forecasts had Irene crashing up the North Carolina coastline Saturday, then churning up the East while drenching areas from Virginia to New York City before a much-weakened storm reaches New England.

Even if the winds aren't strong enough to damage buildings in a metropolis made largely of brick, concrete and steel, a lot of New York's subway system and other infrastructure is underground and subject to flooding in the event of an unusually strong storm surge or heavy rains, authorities noted.

New York City's two airports also are close to the water and could be inundated, as could densely packed neighborhoods, if the storm pushes ocean water into the city's waterways, officials said. The city had a brush with a tropical storm, Hanna, in 2008 that dumped 3 inches of rain in Manhattan.

All told, Irene could cause billions of dollars in damages or more along the Eastern Seaboard in a worst case scenario, said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado.

In the last 200 years, New York has seen only a few significant hurricanes. In September of 1821, a hurricane raised tides by 13 feet in an hour and flooded all of Manhattan south of Canal Street, the southernmost tip of the city. The area now includes Wall Street and the World Trade Center memorial.

New England is also unaccustomed to direct hits from hurricanes. Griffin, who fishes from Portland, Maine, still recalls the clobbering when Hurricane Gloria struck in 1985 and said this one is not one to ignore after years without a large, dangerous storm.

"We have a young generation of lobstermen who've never experienced a full-blown hurricane," Griffin warned.

The first U.S. injuries from Irene appeared to be in South Florida near West Palm Beach where eight people were washed off a jetty Thursday by a large wave churned up by the storm.

In Washington, Irene dashed hopes of dedicating a 30-foot sculpture to the late Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall on Sunday with the help of President Barack Obama. While a direct strike on the nation's capital appeared slim, organizers said the forecasts of wind and heavy rain made it too dangerous to summon a throng they initially expected to number up to 250,000 strong.

Heavy rain and possible floods were big worries in the Northeast. The potential for flooding and wind damage are Irene's greatest threats to Rhode Island, still smarting from the 2010 spring floods that devastated parts of the Ocean State.

In Connecticut, Gov. Daniel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency and warned there could be prolonged power outages if Irene dumps up to a foot of rain on already saturated ground as some fear. He said emergency responders must be ready in event of any evacuations from heavily developed urban areas.

"We are a much more urban state than we were in 1938," he said, referring to the year that the so-called "Long Island Express" hurricane killed 600 people and caused major damage with 17-foot storm surges and high winds.

The urban population explosion in recent decades also worries New Jersey officials. Gov. Chris Christie encouraged anyone on that state's heavily built-up shoreline to begin preparations to leave.

The beach community of Ocean City, Md., was taking no chances, ordering thousands of people to leave.

"This is not a time to get out the camera and sit on the beach and take pictures of the waves," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Last hurricane to hit NC was 2003

The last storm to make landfall in North Carolina was Hurricane Isabel, which killed 33 people and caused $1.6 billion in damage in September 2003. Other recent storms have caused significant damage in North Carolina, including Frances and Ivan, which tracked through western North Carolina in 2004, causing mudslides and an estimated $44 million in damages. Other recent storms that left a lasting impression on the state include Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Hugo in 1989, which made landfall in Isle of Palms, S.C., and tracked through Charlotte.

Click here to see the tracks of some of the famous storms to hit North Carolina

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