Local News

Easley: Ophelia A 'Big Disaster' For Some

Posted September 17, 2005

— Ophelia finally took her leave of North Carolina on Friday, downgraded to a tropical storm but picking up speed for a possible collision with the coast of southeastern New England.

The storm left behind plenty of damage along North Carolina's southern coast -- including beach erosion and ravaged homes and businesses -- but overall was not the devastating blow some feared when it first brushed the coast Tuesday.

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Storms Add To Beach Erosion On N.C. Coast

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Damage Reports Throughout North Carolina

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Slices Of Life Throughout N.C. From Hurricane Ophelia

"There wasn't much to it,' said Allen Fagley, 54, a lifelong resident of Hatteras on the Outer Banks. "We were really blessed ... we had a potential to be neck-deep where we're standing."

Roads on Hatteras Island, a main link in the chain of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, were covered in several inches of water and roofs were left with a few less shingles in Hatteras, but the island was largely unscathed a day after Ophelia blew through.

Gov. Mike Easley toured the central coast near Morehead City, saying the storm was not a "tremendous disaster" but pointing out it had devastated some.

"To those who lost their home, lost their property, it is a big disaster," he said.

Coastal Carteret County appeared to have suffered among the worst damage. Throughout eastern North Carolina, power was still off at more than 4,000 homes and businesses by Friday afternoon.

Restaurants and other businesses in the busy tourist area of Atlantic Beach were cleaning up Friday, stacking chairs and tables outside in the sunlight and piling debris from battered roofs in trucks to be hauled away.

Nearby in Morehead City, an ambulance was parked next to a road with a sign that read: "WE NEED ELECTRICITY PLEASE."

"This is our communication line to the world right now," said Marci Wilson, manager of a private ambulance company, as she pulled out a personal cell phone and laughed.

Ophelia, which meandered north after forming off the Florida coast last week, was offshore again, moving north-northeast at about 8 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. At 8 p.m. EDT, Ophelia was centered about 300 miles south-southwest of Massachusetts' Nantucket island.

A tropical storm warning was posted Friday for Rhode Island's coast and southeastern Massachusetts, including Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The warning means tropical-storm force winds of 39 mph or higher were expected within 24 hours.

Ophelia was expected to pass southeast of Nantucket, but forecasters watched for a possible turn northward, which could bring more severe affects to Massachusetts.

"These things are extremely difficult to forecast, and Ophelia has been a pain in the neck from the beginning," said Mike Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Officials were on standby to respond to the Cape area, ordered coastal campgrounds cleared in anticipation of minor flooding, said James Mannion, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

In North Carolina, officials were starting to compile damage estimates. The state's farmers took a $19.6 million hit from Ophelia, the state agricultural department said, with estimates that over 280,000 acres of farmland were damaged. And a preliminary report from Onslow County identified $8.5 million in structural damage.

One risk modeling company estimated on Friday that losses would top out at $800 million. State officials said statewide numbers about damage estimates may not be available until Monday.

They said damages in New Hanover County alone are estimated at $6 million.

President Bush already has approved an emergency declaration, allowing North Carolina to be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of the cost of emergency response to the storm.

The storm took its time off the North Carolina coast, where its effects were felt for three days, slowing to a near-complete stop at one point, battering beaches with high winds and giant waves. Environmental officials worried about erosion in the storm's aftermath.

"It hit right off the coast and it kept grinding away at the beaches," said Chris Carlson, of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

At Wilmington's Wrightsville Beach, yellow tape blocked beach access at the end of one street, keeping people from an eight-foot drop where Ophelia had eaten away at the sand. On Figure Eight Island, home to pricey vacation homes like the one owned by former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, several beachfront homes sat precipitously close to the surf after their beachfront was carried off the sea.

The damage could have been worse, officials said.

Mayors of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach credited beach renourishment projects with helping them avoid greater damage. Such efforts pump or dump sand to create dunes designed to protect property or widen beaches.

Environmental opponents of renourishment have argued the work is unnatural and harms habitats. Some also argue tax dollars should not be used to protect expensive vacation homes.

Ophelia is the 15th named storm and seventh named hurricane of this year's busy Atlantic season, which ends Nov. 30.

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