09/15/05 — Ophelia flooding not as severe as feared

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Ophelia flooding not as severe as feared

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on September 15, 2005 1:52 PM

Hurricane Ophelia continued its slow crawl along North Carolina's coastline early today, but early indications were that the storm had not brought the severe flooding many feared.

Ophelia was expected to churn away from land and into the Atlantic Ocean later in the day or early Friday after a 48-hour onslaught of lashing rain and wind.

Still at risk were the exposed Outer Banks islands of Ocracoke and Hatteras, as the storm edged northward just to their east.

The Category 1 hurricane had sustained winds of 85 mph today and was expected to dump another 3 to 5 inches of rain 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.

At 7 a.m., Ophelia's center was about 35 miles east-northeast of Cape Lookout and was moving northeast at about 6 mph. The hurricane center said it does not expect the storm's center to make actual landfall as it passes through today.

On Wednesday, waves crashed beneath a pier overlooking Wrightsville Beach on Wednesday as a handful of people strolled the beaches to feel firsthand the powerful winds from the storm.

A group of UNC-Wilmington students seemed more excited than frightened by the storm.

"I'm less worried about Ophelia and more worried about what my mom will do if she knows I'm on the beach right now," said Josh Miller, a 19-year-old from Winston-Salem. "She's been calling me all day."

The few drivers on the streets cautiously outmaneuvered areas of standing water, metal signs, construction cones, fallen trees and other debris while making certain not to hit the traffic lights that swayed back and forth on low-hanging power lines. Weather reports indicated 12 inches of rain in some areas of New Hanover County.

Conditions in Duplin County, while better than those on the coast, deteriorated early in the afternoon. In Wallace, downed power-lines could be seen and drivers could watch businesses on the roadside lose their electricity one-by-one.

In Rose Hill, light debris and small pockets of standing water affected drivers, leaving a handful of cars stranded on the roadside. Most residents of the town, however, stayed inside, A few businesses, mostly restaurants, stayed open.

Many in Duplin and Wayne County hardly expected much from Hurricane Ophelia. Most anticipated some heavy rain at times and light wind, but others had a feeling that conditions could take a turn for the worse.

At the Friendly Mart in Faison, Latisha Morrisey, dealt with customers, most of whom were headed north, away from the storm.

"I know we're gonna get real bad weather," she said. "I already made sure my kids had a safe place to stay tonight and bought a flashlight from here for when the power goes out."

Most customers were buying flashlights, batteries or lighters for candles in case power went out, she said.

In Wayne County, early morning wind and rain came and went. As evening approached, Goldsboro residents began to realized they had been spared.

"We got lucky this time," said Ed Williams, who just recently moved to Goldsboro. "But the hurricane season isn't over yet."

In New Bern, on Pamlico Sound, waters were receding early Thursday morning after failing to reach the flood levels seen two years ago.

Craven County manager Harold Blizzard said early Thursday that "it seems that we're in pretty good shape." Scattered trees were down and there was some flooding, but no major roads were blocked, he said.

In Beaufort County, the storm's overnight shift to the east had officials getting ready to shut down shelters that housed 160 people after minimal power outages and flooding from the Pamlico River.

More than 120,000 homes and business were without power early today in eastern North Carolina, electric utilities said.