Landfall was near Cape Lookout around 7:30 a.m. There were immediate reports of scattered flooding, power outages, and damage.
One man was killed in Nash County after a tree limb fell on him outside his home Saturday morning as some outer bands from the storm brought near hurricane-force gusts more than 100 miles island. Nash County Emergency Management Director Brian Brantley said the man was walking outside his home in a rural area of the county when the limb hit him.
At the coast, the far end of the fishing pier in Atlantic Beach succumbed to the heavy surf. The structure, which extends about 100 feet, still stands, but the end disappeared into the ocean.
Emerald Isle town manager Frank Rush said the end of Bogue Inlet Pier also collapsed.
Craven County Emergency Services Director Stanley Kite said about two feet of water pushed from Pamlico Sound into the Neuse River into neighborhoods in New Bern and Bridgeton. He said a few people were rescued from homes as a precaution in case there was a sudden rise in the surge.
At the resort town of Nags Head on the Outer Banks, winds whipped heavy rain Saturday morning, damaging signs and fences. Tall waves covered the beach and the big, foaming rollers pushed as high as the backs of some houses and hotels.
Residents along the Outer Banks said there wasn't serious damage so far.
Alan Sutton, who owns a bait and tackle shop on Ocracoke Island, said he saw only a few limbs down as of 8 a.m., though he had not yet been outside. He hoped to head outside around lunchtime to assess the damage.
"Right now, we do not see any flooding," he said. "However, that could easily change when we get past the eye. A lot of water is pushed up in the sound, and we have to wait and see how that water comes back out."
Transportation officials shut down two major highways along the North Carolina coast as Irene pummeled the region. The Department of Transportation said state Highway 12 through the southern Outer Banks and U.S. 64 east of Columbia to near Nags Head were closed Saturday morning.
The roads are expected to stay closed until the worst of the weather from Irene moves away and crews can make sure highways are passable. Authorities say the ocean has washed over NC 12 both on Ocracoke Island north of the village of Ocracoke and in Dare County south of the Bonner Bridge.
NC 12 is the fragile, two-lane lifeline that connects the small Outer Banks villages to the mainland, while U.S. 64 is the main route from mainland North Carolina to the Outer Banks.
Governor Beverly Perdue said during a press conference Saturday morning that she plans to visit the coast Sunday to assess the damage.
"We will go to any communities we can get into that have damage ... I want to see it with my own eyes," Perdue said.
President Barack Obama has approved federal aid to supplement state and local responses to the storm. Nearly 300 National Guard service members are now on duty to respond to the storm.
Perdue said the Governor's hurricane hotline is open for people who need help. 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
Carteret County spokeswoman Jo Ann Smith said the Bouge Sound was sending a few feet of water onto roads and into homes at Salter Path.
In Morehead City, the water came in as much as 200 yards into one neighborhood and even houses on pilings appeared flooded by a surge at least 6 feet above normal.
Mike Weeks surveyed the damage Saturday morning with his 3-year-old granddaughter. A catamaran sailboat and a wooden bed frame were in one yard, and Weeks said some of his neighbors' sheds and outbuildings were gone.
"All of a sudden I can't remember what was here before. There are some buildings missing," Weeks said.
Triangle feeling storm too
In the immediate Triangle area, rain started to fall overnight Friday into Saturday and there were reports of trees and tree limbs down, along with other storm damage.
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.
Wind and flood warnings/advisories were issued for several counties north and southeast of the Triangle until Saturday night.
Meanwhile, businesses and churches are closing Saturday due to weather concerns.
Several counties along the North Carolina coast issued mandatory evacuations ahead of Hurricane Irene's arrival.
In Currituck County, Corolla and Carova Beach, re-entry permits will be necessary for residents, property owners, and businesses. Citizens who might require evacuation assistance or have special needs should contact Social Services at (252) 619-4425.