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Hurricane Warning Issued For Part Of N.C. Coast

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Tropical storm Alex, the first tropical storm of the season, gathered strength and slowly began to move again offshore along the coast of the Carolinas on Monday. As a result, a hurricane warning has been issued for a stretch of North Carolina's coast.

The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning from Cape Lookout to Oregon Inlet, including the Pamlico Sound. The warning meant that hurricane conditions are expected within the warning area during the next 24 hours.

After spinning off the South Carolina coast for about a day, the storm began to move again Monday morning. Alex was about 150 miles south-southwest of Wilmington and was moving north-northeast at 6 mph.

The center of Alex will be slowly approaching the Carolina coastline in the next 24 hours. Some strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours, and Alex has the potential to become a hurricane over the next day or so.

A tropical storm warning has been issued from north of Oregon Inlet to the North Carolina/Virginia border, including the Albemarle Sound. A tropical storm warning remains in effect from South Santee River, S.C. to Cape Lookout, N.C.

Although the projected path kept the storm at sea, it was expected to take it near the coast of the Carolinas, prompting the tropical storm warnings. At sunrise Tuesday, the storm was projected to be just off Cape Lookout, N.C.

Due to winds,

Cape Lookout National Seashore

closed Monday at 5 p.m.

Forecasters said no significant coastal flooding was expected. But they warned there could be high water in some areas along the North Carolina sounds.

Rainfall of 1 to 2 inches was expected in some areas as storm bands swept over the coast.

Hotels in the area were doing what they can to prepare for the impeding storm.

"To ensure that we are batting down the hatches, so to speak. Things that can turn into projectiles are put away. Once the storm is upon us, it's too late then to prepare," hotel manager Jason Smith said.

One of the dangers associated with Alex as it spun at sea is

rip currents

, which can pull unsuspecting swimmers out to sea.

Emergency officials on the North Carolina coast rescued 12 swimmers from the strong undercurrent over the weekend -- nine on Sunday alone.

"I know they all think they are good swimmers, but even the best swimmers can get caught in a rip current and sometimes it is difficult to get out of," said Warren Lee of New Hanover County Emergency Management.

Vacationers along the North Carolina coast still enjoyed the beach Monday despite the threat.

Larry Shaffer of Pennsylvania said his family has come to Ocean Isle Beach annually for the past 13 years. He said if it rains, his family will go shopping or go out to eat.

The storm came just as loggerhead turtle eggs are beginning to hatch, and members of the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts were watching its progress closely.

The group had no plans to move nests because they try to eliminate human contact with eggs before they hatch.

"The nests can take a wash-over, as long as they're on a slant, and the water drains off," Betsy Brabson said. "If the nest sits in the water, the turtles can drown. You can lose a whole nest."

The 2004 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, has started slowly.

Only two seasons on record have a first depression forming later than July 31, but forecasters caution that has no bearing on overall hurricane activity.

WRAL has crews along the North Carolina coast. Stay with WRAL for the latest storm news and preparation information.

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