August 31, 2006

CORRECTED: Ernesto charges toward Carolina coast

Corrects location of Howard's Pub in fifth paragraph to
Ocracoke Island from Hatteras Island.

By Gene Cherry

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Ernesto
dumped heavy rain on North and South Carolina as it closed in
on the U.S. East Coast near hurricane strength on Thursday, and
forecasters warned it could trigger life-threatening floods and

Ernesto, which sloshed through Florida Wednesday after
briefly becoming the Atlantic storm season's first hurricane
near Haiti, had sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (113 km
per hour), just short of the 74 mph (119 kph) needed for
hurricane status, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Forecasters said Ernesto could dump up to 8 inches of rain
along its path, where residents remember catastrophic flooding
caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

The governors of both North and South Carolina activated
National Guard troops to deal with Ernesto. But storm-savvy
residents of the Outer Banks in North Carolina seemed

"Everybody is just taking it in stride," said Ann Warren,
owner of Howard's Pub on Ocracoke Island. "Calm. Not expecting
anything major to happen. ... They're just going about their

State ferry service from the Outer Banks island of Ocracoke
to Cedar Island on the mainland was canceled as a precaution.

The National Park Service campgrounds on Ocracoke and
Hatteras Island were closed. The barrier island has more than
900 permanent residents with several thousand tourists
typically on the island at this time of year.

A hurricane watch was in effect from South Santee River in
South Carolina, to Cape Lookout in North Carolina.

"Ernesto could reach the coast as a Category One
hurricane," the hurricane center said.

At 5 p.m. (2100 GMT), Ernesto was located about 75 miles

east of Charleston, South Carolina, or 120 miles (195 km)
south-southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina, the hurricane
center said. It was racing toward the north-northeast at about
17 mph (27 kph).

The storm's most likely track had it moving ashore near the
North Carolina-South Carolina border on Thursday night.

Forecasters said Ernesto could bring 4 to 8 inches of rain
to areas from northeastern South Carolina to the mid-Atlantic
states, with 12 inches in isolated areas.

More than 4 inches of rain had already fallen by late
afternoon in Brunswick County, along the South Carolina border.

Hurricane Floyd, a Category 2 storm with winds near 104 mph
(167 kph), killed 56 people and caused up to $6 billion worth
of damage when it triggered huge floods seven years ago. It
hammered North Carolina's farming industry, killing tens of
thousands of hogs and chickens.

Ernesto had at one point been forecast to reach Florida as
a potential Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson
scale of hurricane intensity. But it moved ashore as a much
weaker storm and did little damage in the state.