Raleigh, N.C. — Hurricane Sandy trudged northeast off North Carolina's coast Sunday, battering the Outer Banks with tropical storm-force wind and rain and flooding but, so far, sparing the state from major damage.
"You never want to say Sandy has been good to us or easy on us, because Mother Nature can deal you a pretty tough blow. But we're blessed with how this storm has tracked," said Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.
Sandy could still land a punch, though, WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said. The storm will be off the North Carolina coast until Monday afternoon, and its wrap-around winds and rain will affect the state through Tuesday. Snow could fall in the mountains, and heavy rains in the Triangle.
A full moon and rotating winds push water from the sound onto the barrier islands. Dare County officials expected a storm surge of 4 to 6 feet through high tide at 8 a.m. Monday.
"We have the combination of a full moon coming up as well as the hurricane sitting out there, churning," said Marvin Mintz, of Carolina Beach.
Ocracoke village and N.C. Highway 12 on Hatteras Island have been flooded with up to two feet of water from severe sound-side flooding and ocean overwash. N.C. 12 is closed between the Oregon Inlet Bridge and Rodanthe, north of Ocracoke village, and between Sea Level and Cedar Island in Carteret County. The Bonner Bridge is closed for inspection.
Overwash has also been reported in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and north of Buxton. Tidal flooding has partially covered U.S. Highway 70 east of Smyrna, Williamston and Stacy. All but one ferry service routes are canceled.
Hurricane Sandy was giving the new $53 million state emergency operations center, off District Drive in Raleigh, its first test.
"We've got excellent equipment. We've got enough space to operate," said Doug Hoell, state emergency management director. "It's ideal. This is the kind of place you want for an emergency operation center."
The 237,000-square-foot facility centralizes emergency operations for the state, Federal Emergency Management Operation, and the state Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol and National Guard. Emergency officials can monitor road conditions from the mountains to the coast and dispatch help accordingly.
For Hurricane Sandy, crews and equipment are staged along N.C. 12 and are ready to assess damage as soon as it's safe. National Guard troops are at armory in Washington, ready to be deployed, and teams are prepped to distribute emergency supplies from a warehouse in Tarboro.
Fishermen stranded as hurricane hits
About 20 people, ranging from a 12-year-old boy to a man in his 60s, on a fishing trip were stranded on Portsmouth Island.
The ferry, which carries five people, couldn't get everyone off the uninhabited fishing island before conditions became too dangerous for the boat, so the group decided who was best able to stay.
"It was a sheer situation of first-come, first-serve," said fishermen Dennis Joyner, of Spring Hope.
"We had diabetics. We had young kids. We had pastors that had to get back to their congregations," he continued. "The few that are here, we were the last straws."
The group pooled their food and water and anticipate having enough to last through Tuesday.
"We'll survive. We'll be able to have food," fisherman Dennis Joyner said. "We're making out fine. It's safer for everyone to stay where they are."
At times, the churning Atlantic has come underneath their cabins, Joyner said. "We're making out fine, as long as the tides don't get much higher," he said. "The dunes are done, so water is just rushing on the island."
State emergency officials were in touch with the fishermen, and the Coast Guard tried to bring them food Saturday, but the surf was too rough.
Storm's touch gentle, but hurts businesses
Flooding but no severe damage was reported along the North Carolina coast from the Crystal Coast to Currituck County.
The lowlands of eastern North Carolina also appeared to have escaped major damage and flooding. Residents were on edge after spending a year raising homes and recovering from Hurricane Irene's record inland floods in August 2011.
"When they said that thing was coming up the coast and after what we went through, it was kind of a nerve-wracking experience," said Edward Whitfield, of Hobucken.
The storm, though, hurt the bottom line of some businesses.
The John Yancey Motel in Nags Head had 65 reservations before the storm, but only 16 rooms were occupied Sunday — mostly by journalists.
"We've lost a good bit of money," Linda Dean, the hotel general manager, said. "This weekend was a big weekend here on the Outer Banks. The chili cook-off, the zombie walk — there were so many things."
Some who stayed on the barrier islands found entertainment at the beach.
Dawneva Evans brought her metal detector to see what the waves had uncovered on the beaches of Surf City. For her, finding jewelry after a big storm is a tradition.
"There's lot of erosion. You're going to find a lot of things that people dropped in the sand," Evans said.
Bartender Adelia White kept the drinks flowing for adventuresome residents and tourists at Mama Kwan's in Kill Devil Hills. "I think everyone's going to get cabin fever start coming out of the wood works" by the time the storm passes Wednesday, she said.
"After you've been through it quite a bit, you get numb to the storm. And so it's just part of life living out on the Outer Banks," real estate agent Jeff Scott, of Kitty Hawk, said.
Some beach residents weren't as sanguine about the hurricane.
Lizzie Konstanzer won't relax until she can no longer hear Sandy's winds howling from inside her Kitty Hawk home on Buzzard Bay.
"The scary thing is at night when you think you're going to lose your roof and the wind is howling and you can't see anything," she said.
Despite her nervousness, Konstanzer said evacuating from the islands wouldn't be worth it.
"To evacuate, you get stuck in traffic. (You're) not able to get back on the island, and you wonder what's happened to all your things," she said. "I'd rather just be here and ride it out."
Carol and Bob L'Esperance walked on Wrightsville Beach Sunday morning, enjoying the strong, salty wind and collecting sea shells as Sandy kicked up 4-foot waves. The coupled moved from Ohio just 10 days ago.
"We wanted to come out and see the power of the ocean and see the waves. It's just been absolutely awesome," Carol L'Esperance said.
"This is unbelievable to me, considering the full brunt of the storm didn't hit, and look at the power you see," said Bob L'Esperance. "I can't imagine what it would be if we got hit by a full hurricane."