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In Morehead City, N.C., looking for damage and finding little -- so far

August 27, 2011 |  7:37 am

Dora Fazzini, a resident of Atlantic Beach, N.C., was sitting in the eerie half-dark of a Hampton Inn lobby in Morehead City, N.C., Saturday morning, on the mainland, and safer now, separated from her barrier island home by the wide body of water called Bogue Sound.

It was 7:20 a.m. The National Hurricane Center would later report that Hurricane Irene made landfall in the U.S. at 7:30 a.m., just to the southeast of here at Cape Lookout, as a weakened Category 1 storm.

PHOTOS: In the path of Hurricane Irene

At Fazzini's Morehead City hotel, the power had gone out at 2:50 a.m., then come back on again, then gone out for good sometime around 4:20 a.m. Hours later, Fazzini’s husband was still upstairs, asleep. She was parked in a lobby lounge chair in shorts and flip-flops, trying, to no avail, to glean some information about Atlantic Beach across the sound, and the fate of the midcentury beachfront cottage that was her prized possession.

Interactive-Click to learn about storm surges Outside, the wind howled through the oak trees. Through waterfront windows, whitecaps were kicking up on the water. But overall -- at least so far -- none of it was as bad as Fazzini had feared.

“This is theoretically the eye,” she said to a woman who passed by in a rain slicker.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” the woman replied.

A group of Spanish-language TV journalists chattered by the big waterfront windows, heading out to the shore from time to time to let the cameras record them being blown around. The front-desk staff worked by the flicker of candles and an electric camping lantern.

Fazzini, 57, a Pennsylvanian, first came to this southern stretch of the Outer Banks with her late father, a Marine who had been stationed at nearby Camp Lejeune. As a young woman, she would come down and camp on the barrier island. She loved the water, and the lifestyle, and the old-fashioned, unrefined feel of the place. There was something real here, she said, something different than the built-up planned communities that you’d find on, say, Hilton Head Island over in South Carolina.

“This isn’t just a tourist haven,” she said. “People live and work here.”

She works for the state treasurer, in Raleigh, but was here most weekends in the cottage she bought with a girlfriend 21 years ago. It's a high-ceilinged, five-bedroom place right on the beach, yellow with blue awnings, and sturdily built: an insurance adjuster once told her he’d be comfortable riding out a Category 3 storm there.

Fazzini was not so bold. She and her husband Dave, 49, had spent a couple of days preparing the place for the worst: moving patio furniture indoors, sandbagging the front door and the garage. They got to the hotel Friday afternoon with enough food and drink to last a week.

She had been through this routine many times. When she was younger, she could feel her blood pressure spike when she waited for the latest storm to do its worst.

“But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sanguine about whatever will happen will happen,” she said. “…If the worst were to happen and the house was damaged beyond repair, I would hope I’d be in a position to rebuild.”

Dave Fazzini came downstairs in a fresh T-shirt and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. Moments later they were in his big white pickup truck, heading east along Morehead City’s main drag, Arendell Street, paralleling the waterfront.

The wind was dying down, the street mostly empty, with boarded storefronts on all sides of them. They turned south, toward the bayfront. There were downed limbs, but not so many downed trees. The streets were flooded for a block or two, but Dora noticed that there was a dry strip by the seawall.

“That’s rainwater,” she said of the street flooding -- rainwater that hadn't drained, not water from a storm surge. It looked to be knee-deep at best.

They kept moving east, going over the high-rise bridge into the quaint fishing town of Beaufort. On the waterfront there, the water was about a foot high at most. So far, the rows of seafood restaurants, sandbagged and boarded up, appeared to be dry.

She called Dave, a friend of hers who had ridden out the storm out on the barrier island. He answered. He was safe.

“So Dave, you think the back end’s coming?” she asked him.

She hung up, and turned to her husband. “Two people are telling David that the back end’s coming,” she said. She told him it was time to head back to the hotel.

On the way back, however, they thought they saw that the bridge to Atlantic Beach –- to their home –- was open. They turned toward it, but found they were wrong. A policeman was there in his car, manning a barricade.

The officer told them the bridge was closed for now. The police and city officials were waiting for the back side of the storm to roll through, he said. Then there would be a meeting, and a discussion about opening the bridge.

Dave asked if there had been a lot of flooding out on Atlantic Beach.

“Yeah,” said the officer, drawling and solemn. “Right much water.”

They headed back to the hotel. There was cold pizza waiting for them for breakfast, and perhaps not so much to be worried about: the downstairs of the cottage was mostly the garage. Maybe it would be OK.

Maybe, Dora said, she’d crack open a beer for breakfast.


Hurricane Irene: Heavy rains, wind begin to lash N.C. coast

Hurricane Irene: N.Y. cuts tolls, fares to encourage evacuation

New Yorkers brace for a big hit form Irene: No mass transit

-- Richard Fausset in Morehead City, N.C.

Photo: Storm surf batters a partially-destroyed fishing pier near Morehead City, North Carolina. Credit: Steve Nesius / Reuters.