ROSEBORO, N.C. — A weakening Tropical Storm Charley churned steadily through North Carolina's eastern counties on Saturday, leaving scant evidence beyond damaged trees, soggy ground and power outages.
"I think it busted up before it got to us," said Tony Coates, who owns Tony's Grill in this small town about 80 miles north of Supply, where the storm entered the state at lunchtime.
As the sun began to peek out, there were few signs that it had just passed through many eastern North Carolina towns. For example, twigs littered streets, but corn still stood straight and tall in the fields of Roseboro, about 65 miles south of Raleigh
According to Renee Hoffman of the state
Department of Crime Control and Public Safety
, most coastal counties reported
and scattered power outages to the State Emergency Response Team Saturday evening.
Hoffman said local emergency operation centers were expected to close Saturday night.
Brunswick and New Hanover counties reported tree and power line damage and those two counties suffered the highest power outages.
As of 9 a.m. Sunday, Progress Energy reported about 33,000 customers without power in eastern North Carolina.
North Carolina's electric cooperatives reported about 6,000 customers without power, mostly in Brunswick County.
At the height of the storm, the Red Cross had opened
. By Saturday evening, 25 remained open, but some were expected to close.
Hoffman said the only county that was reporting problems was Hertford, which had five roads closed due to flooding and was leaving its curfew in place overnight and was keeping its shelter at Hertford County High School open.
At hurricane strength, the storm had killed at least 15 people in Florida by Saturday morning. It then skirted the Georgia coast, returned to land at McClellanville, S.C., and made an impressive entry into North Carolina over the Green Swamp area of western Brunswick County.
"You can hear trees cracking outside," said Malcolm Caison, who abandoned his mobile home -- and his car, flattened by a tree -- to take shelter in his parents' brick house in Supply.
"We're faring all right," he said by telephone as the hurricane's broad center passed over. "The wind's blowing pretty strong in big gusts. We'll have a big gust and then another one."
The foul weather only lasted about a half-hour in any given spot.
At the volunteer fire department in Ammon, about 70 miles north of Supply, Wesley Parker said a storm blew through shortly after 2 p.m., but didn't last long or cause much damage.
"We've had no calls," he said as he prepared to eat a late lunch. "I think they might have made a bigger deal about it than it was."
By 2 p.m. Saturday, Charley was downgraded to a tropical storm with sustained wind speed down to 69 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. Its center was about 35 miles north of Wilmington, N.C., and moving toward the north-northeast at about 30 mph.
That speed and course would take it into Virginia late Saturday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Ron Humble.
A hurricane warning for the entire coastline was downgraded as well. Tornado, wind and flood alerts were issued across the eastern state, though some were canceled as the storm weakened and edged east.
Wilmington withstood about half an hour of heavy rain as the hurricane approached North Carolina, then another hour and a half of fierce winds as the main body of the storm passed inland.
By early afternoon, the sun was breaking through as residents came out to clear branches and other small debris that littered the streets.
The state had prepared for the worst on its third consecutive day of storms thanks to the double punch of Charley and Tropical Storm Bonnie. Tornadoes on Thursday and Friday killed three people and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.
Gov. Mike Easley declared a state of emergency Friday as Charley approached, activating 250 National Guard soldiers and putting 500 more on standby.
Easley warned people not to travel on flooded roads, reminding that most deaths during Hurricane Floyd occured in flooding.
"If you are in low-lying areas, especially near the Tar and Pamlico rivers, you know what can occur with flooding, so please take those precautions," he said.
Authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation in parts of Brunswick and Onslow counties.
Evacuations also were ordered on Ocracoke Island, which is accessible only by ferries, and the island portion of Sunset Beach, near the South Carolina border, which is reachable only by a one-lane swing bridge that is closed in bad weather.
Some areas of the Triangle were expecting to receive three to six inches of rain, making flooding a concern.
In Wake County, Crabtree Creek rose several feet higher than usual, but posed no major problems. Crabtree Valley Mall, with the exception of Hudson Belk and Sears, closed due to the threat of flooding from the creek.
About 180 Progress Energy customers in Raleigh lost power early Saturday when a tree fell on power lines in the 9300 block of Creedmoor Road just after 8 a.m.
City of Durham officials were prepared for potential localized flooding and problems caused by winds. Street maintenance personnel were on standby to monitor areas that are prone to flooding and for any traffic light outages.
, only minor flooding was reported.
Raleigh-Durham International Airport
, 20 flights were canceled, according to airport spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin.
canceled service to some East Coast routes Saturday, but expected several route to be running again on Sunday.
Several events Triangle-area were cancelled or postponed Saturday.
Emmylou Harris' concert at Koka Booth Amphitheater at Regency Park was postponed.
The North Carolina Museum of History and the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh closed Saturday.
Charley pushed back move-in day at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to Sunday at noon. Move in at the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham also was pushed back, and all Wake County public school activities were cancelled for Saturday.