Weather

Hanna's winds whip N.C. coast

Posted September 6, 2008

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— Tropical Storm Hanna provided excitement along the coastline of the Carolinas, whipping up high waves with strong winds. But, aside from water on flood-prone roads and beach erosion, the storm left behind little damage.

"All I've heard is wind, wind and more wind," said Dylan Oslzewski, 19, as he worked an overnight shift at a convenience store in Shallotte, about 15 miles north of South Carolina. Oslzewski said he had only had four customers compared to the 30 or 40 typical on a weekend night.

Hanna came ashore at Sunset Beach, on the state line, packing 50 mph winds at 3:20 a.m. Early Saturday, a weather buoy off Wrightsville Beach reported sustained winds of 53 mph and gusts up to 67 mph.

The wind started to kick in about 2:30 a.m. in Morehead City, said Don Ogle, of Newport, the night manager of a motel. He said half of the motel's day crew stayed overnight.

"I don't know why. I'd go home if I could," he said.

About 1,900 people spent the night in 49 storm shelters, and at the height of the storm, 55,000 people were without power along the coast – including about 20,000 residents in both Brunswick and New Hanover counties.

Sunset Beach was under mandatory evacuation, and officials in seven coastal counties called for voluntary evacuations.

Some roadways flooded overnight, and Belhaven – a town of 2,000 along the Pungo River – reported that waters of a few inches to two feet covered downtown streets and entered six or seven buildings. Those included the police department, senior center, flower-and-gift shop and O'Neal's Drugstore and Snack Bar.

No residences were flooded in the town, which was once the subject of the largest housing-elevation project in the country, involving more than 380 homes and millions of federal dollars.

"Right now, that money has dried up," said Mayor Adam O'Neal, adding that the town has applied for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will aggressively go after any available emergency state and federal money.

However, on Saturday afternoon – after hours of rain and wind – the drone of leaf blowers drowned out the calls of seagulls as workers at beachfront hotels cleaned pathways. Most shelters were closed, crews began work to restore electric service, and flood waters on roads receded.

By 8:30 a.m., the skies started to clear over Wrightsville Beach, and crews began scouring the area for damage but were finding little.

"All in all, this is mild compared to what we've had in the past," Wrightsville Beach Mayor Stephen Whalen said. "We're just (breathing) a sigh of relief."

Farther north, Hanna did not manage to rob the Outer Banks of a beautiful sunrise Saturday. Except for a half-hour Saturday morning, the northern banks did not get rain after Friday afternoon, and N.C. Highway 12 stayed open, although sand blew over it.

Winds, though, roughed up the seas, throwing up waves 18 feet tall off Kill Devil Hills.

The stinging sand sea spray did not keep William Cusick, 78, from getting up early to walk his dog on the beach.

"I don't see anything too exciting about this. It's not too serious," Cusick said.

Robin McIntyre, 46, of Otway, Ohio, said her  family enjoyed admiring the storm's power as it shook their rental house in Nags Head. They were back outside by noon, when the sky slowly started to clear and vacationers returned to walking the blustery beach.

"It was kind of neat for the kids to experience something like that without it being too dangerous," McIntyre said.

Atlantic Beach sustained scattered, minor damage. In one beachside playground, equipment was tossed around, and plywood debris littered parking lots. Minimal damage was also reported in New Hanover County.

 Skies were also clearing in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where earlier Saturday, strong winds bent palm trees and more than 3 inches of rain fell. U.S. Highway 17 was closed for a time around Myrtle Beach and Georgetown, S.C.

Officials said they were happy the storm did not make landfall during high tide, which occurred around 12:30 a.m.

The only hitch in what seemed to be an otherwise decent day were dangers from rip currents that beach patrol officers said would probably last all day. A few fallen pine tree branches and needles cluttered the narrow streets in the residential areas, but dozens of people were out walking their dogs and jogging.

Tom Berger and his buddies from Akron, Ohio, got a nice surprise when they discovered they would be able to keep their tee time at one of the area's golf courses. A day earlier, the group was sure its four-day golf trip was going to end at 75 holes after an outer band of rain washed out a round on the fourth tee.

"We were a little nervous. That rain and wind yesterday was so bad, we didn't think there was any way we'd get this in," Berger said Saturday as he carried his clubs to his car. "But somebody wants us to play some more."

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