September 15, 2005

Hurricane Ophelia pelts North Carolina

By Gene Cherry

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Slow-moving Hurricane
Ophelia soaked and strafed coastal North Carolina and then took
aim at the islands of the Outer Banks off its northern shore on

Ophelia was the first hurricane to hit the United States
since the much more powerful Katrina killed hundreds in the
U.S. Gulf Coast and displaced 1 million people in August.

Its center was 30 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras,
North Carolina, at 9 a.m. (1300 GMT), the National Hurricane
Center said. The eye of the hurricane was expected to stay just
off shore as Ophelia crawled slowly northeast and parallel to
the Outer Banks.

That would keep its strongest winds over the vulnerable
chain of islands all day Thursday, and could push water from
the Pamlico Sound up over them, forecasters said.

"It's been blowing hard all night, but so far we do not
have any tide at the house," said charter boat captain R.T.
O'Neal from his home on Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks on
Thursday morning. "Every once in a while the house shakes when
you have a big gust."

About 600 people stayed on the island, isolated there after
rough seas halted the ferries.

Ophelia's top winds weakened to 80 mph (128 kph), down from
85 mph (136 kph) on Wednesday, and were expected to slowly
weaken further, the forecasters said.

The hurricane pounded North Carolina's south and central
coast on Wednesday. Schools, seaports, ferries and businesses
were closed and more than 2,000 people went into shelters. Some
110,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity.

Ophelia dumped 17.5 inches of rain on Oak Island off the
state's southeastern coast, and several areas got more than a
foot. Forecasters said they could get a few more inches of rain
on Thursday.

Wind gusted at 84 mph (134 kph) over nearby Bald Head
Island and Kure Beach, the National Weather Service said.


Battering waves ate away at beaches and flooded coastal
roads, breaching them in several places in the Surf City area
near Wilmington.

Storms of Ophelia's magnitude usually topple trees and
power lines. They rarely cause structural damage but Ophelia's
slow pace meant coastal buildings had to endure those winds for
a day or two.

The storm ripped off roofs near Morehead City on the
state's central coast and washed away part of a fishing pier on
Atlantic Beach.

Shingles flew off roofs in Onslow County beach communities
near the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, and fire destroyed a
home that firefighters were unable to reach because of road

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley warned that the longer
Ophelia was over the state, the more rain would fall and the
more seawater would pile up and crash ashore as storm surge.

Mandatory evacuation was ordered for islands, beach towns
and flood-prone areas in six coastal North Carolina counties
and voluntary evacuation was urged for parts of nine others.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Surf City to the
North Carolina-Virginia border, alerting residents to expect
hurricane conditions within 24 hours.