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Ophelia prompts evacuations on Outer Banks
Updated: 2005-09-13 21:53

More of the exposed Outer Banks chain of island was ordered evacuated Tuesday as Tropical Storm Ophelia drifted closer to the coast of the Carolinas with pounding surf and a threat of heavy rain.

People walk along the beach as the sun rises at Atlantic Beach, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2005. The area is preparing for the arrival of tropical storm Ophelia. [AP]

Part of the storm's outermost bands neared the shoreline as Ophelia bobbed and weaved slowly to the north-northwest, with its top sustained wind staying at about 70 mph.

A hurricane warning was in effect Tuesday from Georgetown, S.C., to North Carolina's Cape Lookout, east of Morehead City, the National Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm warning extended north along the Outer Banks from Cape Lookout to Oregon Inlet.

With many people on edge because of Hurricane Katrina, all residents and visitors were ordered to evacuate Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks on Tuesday, visitors already had been ordered off Ocracoke Island and 300 National Guard troops were on duty along the coast. Schools in five coastal counties were closed Tuesday and Dare County planned to send students home at noon. Classes were canceled at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

"I don't think I would be human if I said Katrina had no impact on me," Wilmington Mayor Spence Broadhurst said after calling for a voluntary evacuation.

With Ophelia's path unpredictable, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner had declared an emergency Monday, putting all state agencies to work preparing for the storm. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford called for a voluntary evacuation of oceanfront and riverside areas in the northeastern part of his state.

"This is a serious storm that's got the potential to do a lot of damage and put lives in jeopardy if we don't take it seriously," Sanford said.

The National Park Service closed most of its property on the Outer Banks, including the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

Ophelia dropped slightly in strength Monday from a hurricane to a tropical storm, but it could regain hurricane strength over the next day or so, forecasters said.

At 8 a.m. EDT, Ophelia was centered about 145 miles south of Wilmington and about 140 miles east-southeast of Charleston, S.C. After sitting nearly stationary during part of the night, it had started moving north-northwest at 4 mph, with a gradual turn toward the north expected during the night or on Wednesday.

Tropical storm-force wind extended out as far as 160 miles from the center, and was forecast to reach the coastline well ahead of the storm's eye.

Forecasters feared the slow-moving storm could batter coastal communities with hours of wind and rain. Up to 10 inches of rain was possible.

"We're not talking about something that will be in and out of here in six hours," said Allen Smith, Carteret County's emergency services director.

However, some people insisted they wouldn't let the storm disrupt their life.

"My family is all coming in for a family reunion, including my 84-year-old mother," said Dodie Curtis, 62, of Gilford, Maine, who was getting ready to take a stroll on Wrightsville Beach. "This is our family thing and we don't plan to go anywhere unless it gets a lot worse."

Ophelia became a tropical storm Wednesday off the Florida coast and later strengthened to a hurricane. It is the 15th named storm and seventh hurricane in this year's busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

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