Hurricane Irene crashes ashore in North Carolina
After crashing ashore at Cape Lookout, N.C., early Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, Hurricane Irene raked North Carolina’s Outer Banks and inland areas with punishing winds and pounding rains.
Residents of the state braced for power outages and widespread flooding as the slow-moving storm lumbered up the wide Pamlico Sound, with little to block its path before the center of the storm hits land again in Dare County along the coast.
The storm flooded yards and streets, bending long-leaf pines and weeping willows, and scattering debris across roadways. Irene weakened slightly overnight, but forecasters said it was still a very dangerous storm because it's so big -– nearly 450 miles wide -– and because it's moving very slowly at just 14 mph
PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene
Manteo, the main town on Roanoke Island, a few miles west of Nags Head and the rest of the Outer Banks, is in the direct path of the hurricane. The empty streets of the town were rapidly filling with water Saturday morning as high winds tore into nearby beaches.
"It’s going to get worse as the day goes on," said Kathryn Bryan of the Dare County Emergency Management office in Manteo.
Forecasters said the worst effects of the slow-moving storm could last up to 12 hours in eastern North Carolina, where Gov. Beverly Perdue said as many as 3.5 million people could be affected by the hurricane.
The National Hurricane Center warned of "an extremely dangerous storm tide," with storm surges of five to nine feet. The center predicted six to 10 inches of rain for much of eastern North Carolina, with as much as 15 inches in some locations.
Bryan said coastal authorities are concerned that when the eye of the storm crosses the upper Outer Banks later Saturday, skies will clear temporarily, prompting people to come out of their homes to look around.
"People always want to come out and looky-loo, but it's the back side of the storm that's going to be the worst part, with the biggest storm surge," Bryan said. "If you’ve decided to stay, you need to stay home all day today."
Power was knocked out to some homes in Manteo just after 8 a.m., but Bryan said there were no reports of widespread power outages. Strong waves were crashing over beaches on Hatteras Island, flooding the community of Mirlo Beach on the island.
Waves caused piers to collapse in Atlantic Beach and at Bogue Inlet in the southern stretch of the Outer Banks, the News and Observer of Raleigh reported. Downtown Wilmington, N.C., was flooded with a foot and a half to two feet of water.
-- David Zucchino in Manteo, N.C.
Photo: Abandoned beach-front houses are surrounded by rising water in Nags Head, N.C. Credit: Gerry Broome / Associated Press