Local News

Alex Leaves N.C. Coast; Ocracoke Under State Of Emergency

Posted August 4, 2004

— Ocracoke Island was placed under a state of emergency Tuesday after a visit from Hurricane Alex.

According to Sheriff Lynden Johnson, the island was plagued by flooding, which caused floating propane gas tanks and many vehicles to catch fire. About 22 light poles on the island were down Tuesday night, and repair crews were scheduled to ferry out to the island Wednesday to begin repairs.

Sheriff Johnson gave a statement for any viewers watching on the island:

"I know you are very concerned about your vehicles on the island," he said. "But they are very dangerous at this time. Please do not attempt to start your vehicles. The best thing to do is to stay inside. Please remain calm; we are on our way to help out and will be there for as long as we are needed."

The state of emergency was declared after a stronger-than-expected Hurricane Alex brushed North Carolina's coast Tuesday, temporarily cutting power to thousands and flooding Hatteras Island's only link to the mainland.

At the peak of power outages, 10,000 customers were without electricity, including 6,800 customers on Hatteras Island from Rodanthe to Hatteras Village, and all 2,100 customers on Ocracoke.

Officials claim some of the heaviest damage could be at Hatteras Island, where some people may not have boarded the windows of their homes.

There reportedly was two to three feet of flooding on Hatteras Island. Flood watches were posted for many coastal and Outer Banks counties.

As a result of Alex, the North Carolina Ferry officials have suspended service indefinitely to Hatteras Island, Swan Quarter and Cedar Island.

Gov. Mike Easley says is appears the damage caused by Hurricane Alex will be minimal and mostly confined to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. Easley said the National Guard was at work in Dare County and that the state Department of Transportation was ready to clear roads once the storm passes.

The storm missed a direct hit that could have devastated a region still recovering from last year's Hurricane Isabel.

The storm's eye just barely passed by Cape Hatteras, leaving the east side of the

Category 2

hurricane -- where the strongest winds and heaviest rains are located -- out at sea.

Alex bore little similarity to Isabel, North Carolina's hurricane, which made landfall Sept. 18, 2003, damaging more than 53,000 homes in 47 counties.

That storm slammed the Outer Banks, then headed north through the eastern part of the state into Virginia and up the East Coast.

Isabel hit Hatteras Island particularly hard, shaping a new inlet that stranded Hatteras Village until it was filled and N.C. 12 rebuilt.

That section of road took another blow Tuesday, becoming so covered by sand that the pavement was barely visible.

The difference in the storms meant that locals like Jim Sarsfield, a 20-year resident of the Outer Banks, viewed the storm as a lightweight.

Sarsfield said he had fuel for a generator and had picked up loose items around his home, but did not plan to cover his windows.

"It's just going to be a couple of days of rain and a little bit of wind, then it will be life as usual," he said as he shopped Tuesday morning at the Island Convenience Store in Rodanthe, about 15 miles north of Cape Hatteras. "Just your basic get-ready-to-get-ready."

The heaviest part of the storm passed through at midday and by the time it was past, Alex was expected to have dropped up to 6 inches of rain, with more possible in isolated areas, before moving back out to sea, according to weather service forecasts.

Motel parking lots remained full, indicating that the storm had chased off few tourists. A campground at Oregon Inlet remained open, though it was mostly empty.

Restaurants left their outdoor furniture in place, and at least one hardware store left bags of potting soil sitting alongside other displays, just as they would be on any other day.

Only two hurricane seasons on record have a first tropical depression forming later than July 31. But forecasters said a late start has no bearing on hurricane activity.

Tropical storm watches and warnings will likely be issued later Tuesday for some of the Lesser Antilles as a

newly formed tropical depression

heads westward.

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