Posted August 25, 2011
Updated August 26, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — Hurricane Irene was bearing down on North Carolina Thursday on track to make landfall in the Outer Banks Saturday afternoon, WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning Thursday for the North Carolina coast, indicating that Hurricane Irene is expected to impact the state in the next 48 hours. The warning extends from north of Surf City to the Virginia border.
Gov. Bev Perdue pressed residents and vacationers to act with caution over the next few days. "We can always rebuild, but we cannot replace lost lives," she said Thursday night. "It’s time for all of us to take very seriously these warnings."
The first signs of the storm could be felt in North Carolina Friday night as tropical storm force winds and heavy rain.
By 8 a.m. Saturday, forecasts show heavy surf off the coasts of South Carolina and Wilmington. A vast band of tropical storm strength wind – up to 90 mph – will build inland from the state's southeast corner. Winds could reach 105 mph across the northeastern corner of the state as the storm makes landfall Saturday evening.
"It is going to be an incredibly long two days around here," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.
Perdue issued a state of emergency Thursday morning for all counties east of Interstate 95 as mandatory evacuations forced thousands of people to flee the coast ahead of Hurricane Irene.
The emergency declaration activated North Carolina's price-gouging law, and Perdue also asked President Barack Obama to declare a pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide federal assistance for response efforts.
The counties listed in the emergency declaration are: Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Halifax, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Nash, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Perquimans, Pitt, Tyrrell and Wilson.
"By noon tomorrow, we’ll have 180 national guard troops with boots on the ground in eastern North Carolina, and we’ll have 2,300 more on standby," the governor said.
The National Weather Service said winds at Wrightsville Beach could be close to hurricane force at about 70 mph with a storm surge of four to six feet. New Hanover County could see six to nine inches of rain.
The first hurricane of the Atlantic season had maximum sustained winds swirling at 115 mph and was moving northwest at 14 mph Thursday night.
Irene "is packing a strong wind," Perdue said, adding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is standing by, the National Guard is deployed, the Red Cross is on the ground and volunteers are in position to help with disaster relief as needed.
Perdue said she was disappointed to see how slowly the evacuation of Ocracoke Island began Wednesday.
"I understand that folks don't take it seriously, but Ocracoke is sitting out there in the middle of the water, and if you have a 115 mph wind – it may not be that much, I'm not trying to over-exaggerate – you just don't know," she said.
Federal officials have warned that Irene could cause erosion, flooding, power outages or worse all along the coast even if it stays offshore.
It's been more than seven years since a major hurricane, considered a Category 3 with winds of at least 111 mph, hit the East Coast. Hurricane Jeanne came ashore on Florida's east coast in 2004.
The last hurricane to hit the U.S. was Ike in 2008. The last Category 3 or higher to hit the Carolinas was Bonnie in 1998, but caused less damage than other memorable hurricanes: Hugo in 1989, Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999 and Isabel in 2003.
Deadly NC hurricanes on Dipity.