Proving far less damaging than feared, Hurricane Arthur left tens of thousands of people without power today in a swipe at North Carolina’s dangerously exposed Outer Banks, then brought lousy Fourth of July beach weather to the Northeast as it veered out to sea.
The weather along the narrow barrier islands — whose beaches draw hundreds of thousands of tourists every summer — had already cleared this afternoon as Arthur scooted north and its outer bands scraped the Delaware and New Jersey shores. Forecasters predicted the storm would weaken before its center moves over western Nova Scotia in Canada early Saturday.
While state and local officials worked to restore access to Hatteras Island and help those who had suffered storm and flooding damage, the effects of the hurricane were mostly confined to that part of the state. Farther south, the beaches were once again packed with people soaking up the sun.
“The North Carolina beaches are open for business and they’re open for tourists,” Gov. Pat McCrory said. “The umbrellas are going up as we speak right now.”
Arthur struck North Carolina as a Category 2 storm with winds of 100 mph late Thursday, taking about five hours to move across the far eastern part of the state.
At the height of the storm, more than 40,000 people lost power, and the rush of water from the ocean on one side and the sound on the other side buckled part of North Carolina Highway 12 in a spot on Hatteras Island that was breached in Hurricane Irene in 2011. Dozens of workers were heading to fix the highway, and the Department of Transportation said it was confident the road would reopen Saturday as long as an underwater sonar test of a key bridge showed no problems.
No injuries or deaths were reported. After praising emergency officials and saying the state dodged a bullet, McCrory said he was heading to the beach himself for an Independence Day parade in Southport.
By this afternoon, the hurricane had weakened to a Category 1 storm with 80 mph winds. Its center was about 170 miles south-southwest of Chatham, Massachusetts.
While the Northeast wasn’t expected to take a direct hit, the rain from Arthur’s outer bands was disrupting the holiday. Fireworks displays in New Jersey and Maine were postponed until later in the weekend. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for coastal areas as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Tropical storm watches and warnings were in effect for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in southeastern Canada.
Still, the first hurricane known to strike the U.S. on July 4 caused some frayed nerves on North Carolina’s Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents and around 250,000 visitors on most summer weekends. A mandatory evacuation was issued for the southern Outer Banks. But while most visitors left, many residents stayed, accustomed to hurricanes that strike the area on average about every four or five years.
Jesse and Carol Wray rode out the storm in their home in Salvo on North Carolina Highway 12. They said the island was under several feet of water at the height of the storm. The 6-foot-tall lamppost at the end of their driveway was under water except for its top, and that was after the sound a quarter-mile away receded several feet.
“There’s a lot of damage to a lot of houses around here,” Wray said. “Everything flooded out. All the businesses are flooded, and there was a lot of wind damage.”
The bulk of the flooding and other damage on Hatteras Island appeared to have happened in the island’s midsection in the villages of Rodanthe and Salvo. Farther south in Buxton, Angela Tawes is eager for the road to reopen, the ferries to resume and tourists to return with their money.
“We’re all just holding our breath and hoping right now,” said Tawes, whose family owns a grocery store, Conner’s Supermarket.
Arthur is the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. It is the earliest in the season a hurricane has made landfall in North Carolina.
McCrory said people in states to the northeast should need to warnings about Arthur, even if North Carolina came through better than expected.
“I encourage them to take this very seriously as we did and hope for the best results,” the North Carolina governor said. “We’ve always felt that it was better to overreact than underreact, gladly this storm was more underwhelming than anticipated, which was very good news.”
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