HAVELOCK, N.C., AP -Hurricane Ophelia continued its tortuously slow crawl along North Carolina coastline early Thursday as officials feared serious flooding and a possible 11-foot storm surge.
Ophelia was expected to churn away from land and into the Atlantic Ocean later in the day after an anticipated 48-hour onslaught of lashing rain and wind.
More than 12 inches of rain had fallen on Oak Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River south of Wilmington, according to the National Weather Service in Raleigh. City crews were out clearing tree limbs and other debris from major roadways.
"I think we will be dealing with water in some places for a while," said New Hanover County emergency management director Warren Lee.
The Category 1 hurricane had sustained winds of 85 mph Thursday and was expected to dump another 3 to 6 inches along North Carolina”s coast. Hurricane warnings covered about 220 miles along the state”s coast from Surf City north of Wilmington to the Virginia line, where a tropical storm warning covered the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Many who lived through the coastal flooding of Hurricane Isabel two years ago needed little encouragement to take cover.
"Once you”re warned about a storm and they tell you how hard the wind”s gonna be and everything, you need to get away from there," Alston Frazier said Wednesday as he prepared to evacuated his family from the rural community of Harlowe to stay overnight at their church.
At 3 a.m. EDT Thursday, Ophelia”s center was about 15 miles south-southeast of Cape Lookout and moving northeast at 7 mph toward Cape Hatteras about 75 miles away. The storm”s center may never make landfall as it skirts the barrier islands of the Outer Banks throughout the day, the hurricane center said.
Following the criticism of its response to Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had 250 workers on the ground — a larger-than-usual contingent given Ophelia”s size. FEMA also put a military officer, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Brian Peterman, in place to command any federal response the storm might require.
More than 120,000 homes and business were without power early Thursday in eastern North Carolina, electric utilities said. And on Ocean Isle Beach, south of Wilmington, a 50-foot section of beachfront road was washed out by heavy surf.
To the north, water from Bogue Sound washed into garages and ground floors while ocean surf chewed away the end of a hotel”s pier on Bogue Banks, a barrier island.
Craven County expected a 6- to 8-foot storm surge in the Harlowe area near the Neuse River — an area that flooded during Isabel, said Stanley Kite, the county emergency management coordinator.
Officials on the Outer Banks warned that Ophelia could bring 10 hours of hurricane-force wind to exposed Hatteras Island. The southernmost villages of Hatteras, Frisco and Buxton were expected to get the worst of the winds and the flooding.
Even so, some lifelong residents insisted on sticking it out in their homes. At least hundreds of Hatteras Island residents defied an evacuation order.
As the wind picked up speed and fat raindrops began to fall, Allen Burrus relaxed and ate a bowl of chili in the back room of the grocery store that his grandfather started in 1866.
"It”s your home," he said with a shrug.
Ophelia is the 15th named storm and seventh named hurricane of this year”s busy Atlantic season, which ends Nov. 30.