September 1, 2010

NC declares state of emergency ahead of Earl

Tom Breen, The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina's governor has declared a state of emergency as evacuation of the coast ahead of Hurricane Earl continues.

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Caleb Bourne, 11, of Ocean City, Md., rides a wave in Ocean City on Tuesday. Hurricane Earl, a Category 4 storm, is headed toward the U.S. coast after battering islands in the northeastern Caribbean.

The Associated Press

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Gov. Beverly Perdue issued the declaration during an afternoon briefing today at the state Emergency Operations Center near the state capital.

Earl's strongest winds are expected to reach the coast Thursday night into Friday morning. Perdue warned residents along the Outer Banks to leave those areas immediately.

Already, hundreds of cars were backed up in traffic on N.C. Highway 12, the sole link between the fragile barrier islands and the mainland.

10:20 a.m.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Powerful Hurricane Earl wheeled toward the East Coast, driving the first tourists today from North Carolina vacation islands and threatening damaging winds and waves up the Atlantic seaboard over Labor Day weekend.

Visitors were taking ferries off Ocracoke Island and told to leave neighboring Cape Hatteras in North Carolina's Outer Banks, and federal authorities have warned people all along the Eastern seaboard to be prepared to evacuate. Emergency officials as far north as Maine were checking their equipment and urging people to have disaster plans and supplies ready.

Earl was still more than 700 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, with top sustained winds of 125 mph. It was on track to near the North Carolina shore late Thursday or early Friday and then blow north off the coast, with forecasters cautioning that it was still too early to tell how close the storm may come to land.

Hurricane watches were out from Surf City, N.C., to Virginia's Parramore Island. Not since Hurricane Bob in 1991 has such a powerful storm had such a large swath of the East Coast in its sights, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.

"A slight shift of that track to the west is going to impact a great deal of real estate with potential hurricane-force winds," Feltgen said.

Even if Earl stays well offshore, it will kick up rough surf and dangerous rip currents up and down the coast through the Labor Day weekend, a prime time for beach vacations, forecasters said.

The only evacuation orders so far affected parts of the Outer Banks, thin strips of beach and land that face the open Atlantic.

Tourist cars, some with campers in tow, lined up for the first ferries of the day from Ocracoke to the mainland. Another car ferry connects to Hatteras, which has a bridge to the mainland and came under the second evacuation order a little later Wednesday morning.

The evacuation orders are called mandatory, but Julia Jarema, spokeswoman for the state Division of Emergency Management, said it doesn't mean people will be forced from their homes. Local law enforcement officials may do something such as going door-to-door and asking people who stay behind for their information about their next of kin.

Emergency officials said they hoped Ocracoke's 800 or so year-round residents would heed the call to leave. But Carol Paul said she and husband Tom would stay put if the current forecasts hold. Only a direct hit from a stronger storm would drive them from the island where they've lived for seven years, running an antiques store.

"There's never been a death on Ocracoke from a hurricane, so we feel pretty comfortable," Carol Paul 57, said as tourists departed on ferries and her husband, also a construction contractor, worked to board up the windows of clients and friends' homes. "Everything here is made pretty much with hurricanes in mind."

The approaching storm troubled many East Coast beach towns that had hoped to capitalize on the BP oil spill and draw visitors who normally vacation on the Gulf Coast.

(Continued on page 2)

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