From far offshore, Sandy affects Outer Banks

Hurricane Sandy will make its closest pass far offshore Sunday afternoon, but is likely to churn up surf and spur some storm surge, said WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Hurricane Sandy promises to dampen the weekend for most of eastern North Carolina en route to an even more severe impact further north on the eastern seaboard. The storm's track early Saturday had it headed northeast at 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. 

A sharp turn to the west will bring Sandy to land Monday or Tuesday in the Chesapeake Bay area.

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Gov. Bev Perdue declared a state of emergency for 40 eastern North Carolina counties in anticipation of the storm, mobilizing additional state government resources to assist county and municipal governments in responding to the storm. The governor also activated the State Emergency Operations Center, beginning Saturday morning, to prepare for and respond to the storm.

What and when in North Carolina

A light rain fell Friday night along the North Carolina coast, but within 24 hours the effects of Sandy were expected. The storm will pass far off shore Sunday afternoon, but is likely to churn up surf and spur some storm surge, said WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel.

Forecast models show 4 to 8 inches of rainfall accumulating in eastern North Carolina by mid-week. One extreme model forecast 12 inches of rain for the Outer Banks, Fishel said.

Along the southern North Carolina coast, winds will gust at 20 to 35 mph. Heavier rain and winds of up to 50 mph will hit Cape Hatteras and outlying areas to the north. The National Hurricane Center had posted tropical storm warnings for an stretch of coastline from Savannah, Ga., to Duck on the Outer Banks.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation stationed equipment along N.C. Highway 12 on Hatteras Island, which often is inundated when storms pass offshore, and the agency has moved its larger ferries closer to Hatteras in case emergency evacuations are needed this weekend.

In the Triangle, the storm will bring very little rain, possibly a quarter-inch, Fishel said, but it will be breezy, with wind gusting up to 30 mph for the rivalry game Saturday afternoon between North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina.

Rocky Mount, Greenville and areas to the east of the Triangle will see more substantial rain. 

“This is not your typical hurricane that moves through the state in 12 to 24 hours,” Doug Hoell, state emergency management director, said in a statement. “Folks in eastern North Carolina will likely feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy beginning (Friday night) and continuing through Tuesday.”

Coastal residents settle in for storm

Eddie Cox, of Smithfield, was finishing up a beach week and heading for home Saturday. He spent Friday fishing off Jennette's Pier in Nags Head. 

"You're always worried about a storm. You never know what they’re gonna bring," he said. "I pray we’ll get in and get out before it actually arrives and get back home."

Elsewhere in Nags Head, Ben Nordom settled in for a windy, wet weekend. He has another week left on a vacation from Tampa, Fla., and he planned to stay. 

"We didn’t come here for a hurricane. We came for some cool weather and now we’re getting it," Nordom said.

While the weekend will be wet, the brunt of the storm could be felt on the back end, Fishel pointed out. After Sandy makes the turn inland, winds wrapping around the system could produce extensive flooding on the sound side of the state's coast into Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mae Lunden, owner of Colington Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast, saw that impact last year with Hurricane Irene. "We had 14 inches in our garage," she said, noting that Irene's aftermath caught her neighbors by surprise.

"We’re preparing for it," she said. "We brought in everything the wind can move."

Lunden had hoped the Colington Creek Inn could go a season without a storm to watch for. "We were thinking we might get away without having one this year, but I don’t think so," she said with a laugh.

Surfers took advantage of churning waters off Wrightsville Beach on Friday, where the day was windy and overcast. The large waves and strong undertow were expected to cause some beach erosion in the area, but New Hanover County officials said they don't foresee any evacuations.

"If you don't know how to surf, today's not the day to be out – not today, not tomorrow, not any time this weekend," surfer Morgan McIntyre said.

"The idea is it's great day for the next two or three days to collect shells and maybe that's about it," said Shannon Slocum, a park ranger for Wrightsville Beach. "Stay out of the water unless you're attached to a surfboard."

Carteret County officials said they plan to open a shelter at 6 p.m. Saturday in Atlantic Elementary School for any residents displaced by Sandy.

Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin advised eastern North Carolina residents to protect their property, take an inventory of belongings and gather important paperwork so claims for any storm damage can be made quickly.

Officials with Duke Energy and Dominion Power, which serves the northeast corner of the state, said they were monitoring the storm's progress and were readying crews for possible power outages.

The Red Cross also was mobilizing volunteers and emergency supplies at offices across the eastern part of the state to assist with any recovery efforts.

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