Earl's winds and rains blow into Outer Banks

Posted September 2, 2010 4:56 a.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2010 2:20 a.m. EDT

— Rain squalls and gusting winds from Hurricane Earl are becoming more pronounced along the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Hurricane Earl's winds were slowing, from 140 mph early Thursday to 105 mph, Category 2 strength, by 8 p.m. But forecasters warned that it remained powerful, with hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or more extending 70 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds of at least 35 mph reaching more than 200 miles out.

National Weather Service said the eye of the hurricane was expected to get as close as 55 miles east of the Outer Banks about 2 a.m. Friday but not make landfall.

"Earl is going back toward the east and this is a clear indication that the storm will not be going over the Outer Banks," WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said.

The coast is expected to be lashed by hurricane-force winds for a couple of hours with a storm surge of up to 5 feet and waves 18 feet high.

"At Morehead City, winds are gusting to 40 mph, over toward Manteo, winds are gusting to 40 mph and at Diamond Shoals, winds are gusting to 51 mph and waves are up to 20 feet," WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze said early Friday.

Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier, referred to locally as the Frisco Pier, was damaged by high surf Thursday as communities along the Outer Banks battened down the hatches and tourists left the barrier islands.

A hurricane warning remains in effect for all of the Outer Banks and Core Banks and extended from the Bogue Inlet, north of Camp Lejeune, to the southern coast of Massachusetts.

Earl is expected to scuttle out of the area quickly during the daylight hours of Friday morning. Along the Outer Banks, the rest of Labor Day weekend is expected to be sunny and clear, with highs in the mid 80s.

Tourists ordered to leave Outer Banks

State emergency leaders said they had a "healthy" response to evacuations, mandatory for visitors and voluntary for residents, in northern Dare County, Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands on the Outer Banks, and the Core Banks from Atlantic Beach to Emerald Isle.

"A lot of people were reluctant leavers, but they did," Gov. Beverly Perdue said at a media briefing Thursday.

The last ferry departed at 3 p.m. from Ocracoke Island, which is accessible only by sea and air. It was full for the 2½-trip to Swan Quarter, with about 300 passengers and 50 vehicles.

The ferries will be stowed away and their normal runs suspended until the hurricane passes.

Perdue urged tourists to obey evacuation orders and residents riding out the storm to be be prepared.

Nancy Scarborough, who manages the Hatteras Cabanas, said that Outer Banks residents have a tight-knit community that takes care of its own.

“I worry about not being able to get back here,’” she said. “I’d rather be stuck on this side than that side.”

Perdue said that anyone who stays to ride it out will be cut off from emergency responders during the storm.

"Once the storm comes in, once it's at its worst point, we are not going to put any emergency worker in harm's way," she said. "There'll be no one to answer the phone or to come up physically to your home."

The State Emergency Operations Center urged those leaving the coast to register with the American Red Cross "Safe and Well" program, which helps keep families and friends informed about one another during emergencies.