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Arthur races away after battering N.C. coast

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    Steve Earley - AP
    Carol Palmer of King George, Va. loads a car with her family's belongings as they prepare to leave Hatteras Village, N.C., on Thursday, July 3, 2014. Hurricane Arthur is forecast to pass by North Carolina's Hatteras Island Friday morning. The island is under mandatory evacuation orders. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot,Steve Earley) MAGS OUT

Hurricane Arthur raced away from Virginia's Tidewater area Friday morning after landing a direct hit with 100 mph-plus winds at two locations on the North Carolina coast.

The storm blew down trees, knocked out power to tens of thousands of customers and caused flash flooding. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Emergency management officials along the Outer Banks, which absorbed a fierce pounding from both the ocean and sound sides by the hurricane, were preparing to begin assessing damage Friday morning. The last of the rain bands associated with the storm were crossing the northern Outer Banks at 7 a.m. Friday.

The worst of the damage was largely from the Atlantic Beach-Morehead City area up the coast to the North Carolina-Virginia border.

Areas farther to the south, including South Carolina's Grand Strand and the beach resorts in the Wilmington area and Brunswick County, escaped for the most part. Heavy rain and winds of up to 55 mph were hit those areas, but only scattered power outages were reported.

There was no immediate word on the condition of N.C. 12, the only highway running up and down the Outer Banks. North Carolina officials said they had a large number of trucks and equipment staged to deal with possible overwash-related damage to the road, which is frequently breached during tropical storms and hurricanes.

Social media reports from the Outer Banks told of widespread flooding, and there were photos of waves crashing ashore from the sounds, as Arthur approached, and later from the ocean side, as the storm moved northward. Several Twitter and Facebook reports indicated there was no major apparent damage in towns along the central and northern parts of the Outer Banks, or on Ocracoke Island at the southern end of the fragile barrier islands.

There were no immediate estimates on the number of power outages, but Duke Energy was reporting 10,000 customers without power in Carteret County, where the storm first made landfall. Another 2,000 were without power in Craven County, just inland from Carteret. Widespread power outages are expected in Hyde and Dare counties along the Outer Banks.

Dare County officials released a statement about 6 a.m. Friday, saying access to that portion of the Outer Banks is being restricted until a damage assessment has been completed.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is planning to give an update on the damage at mid-morning Friday.

Arthur surprised National Hurricane Center meteorologists in two ways -- by growing stronger than originally expected, and by veering a bit farther west than first thought. Arthur was forecast originally to be an 80 mph hurricane, but its top winds grew to 100 mph Thursday as it moved northward, parallel to Myrtle Beach and Wilmington. It also originally was expected to brush the edge of the Outer Banks.

Instead, the hurricane made landfall around 11 p.m. Thursday a bit east of Atlantic Beach. After battering Morehead City, New Bern and Beaufort, the storm emerged back over Pamlico Sound and made another landfall on the Outer Banks early Friday.

At 5 a.m., Hurricane Arthur was about 85 miles southeast of Norfolk, still with 100 mph top winds. It was racing northeast at 23 mph and is expected to increase its speed Friday, eventually hitting Canada's Maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia early Saturday as a tropical storm.

The National Hurricane Center said a weather station on the Hatteras Island village of Waves reported a wind gust of 85 mph around 4:30 a.m.

Mandatory evacuations had been ordered for Dare County, but emergency management officials said late Thursday that they believe tens of thousands of people -- mostly the full-time residents -- stayed. Tens of thousands of tourists heeded the evacuation order and left the coastal county during the day Thursday.

Arthur presented what some officials had been concerned about – a hurricane hitting the coast on a big tourist weekend.

“The safety of our coastal residents and visitors remains our top priority,” said Gov. Pat McCrory, who urged residents and vacationers to heed evacuation orders.

Hyde County Manager Bill Rich warned visitors and residents to leave Ocracoke Island, which was under a voluntary evacuation. Wind gusts of more than 100 mph are expected there overnight.

“There could be loss of electricity, there could be restaurants closing, there could be cars flooding, and roads could be compromised,” Rich said.

McCrory ordered National Guard troops and vehicles to be deployed in Kinston, not far from the coast. And state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata positioned more than two dozen pieces of road-clearing equipment near N.C. 12, the narrow highway that runs up and down the Outer Banks and is frequently flooded during tropical weather systems.

Meteorologists predicted a storm surge of 3 to 5 feet in areas where the hurricane-force winds are felt, along with 4 to 6 inches of rain – and up to 8 inches in some areas.

To the south, where tropical storm-force winds were experienced much of the day along the Grand Strand and the Brunswick County beaches that are popular with Charlotte-area residents, the big threat was flooding, power outages and rip currents. But even there, a storm surge of 1 to 3 feet was predicted.

Municipal and county government offices closed early Thursday in Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender and Onslow counties along the coast. Dozens of towns along the coast canceled or postponed Independence Day parades and fireworks displays.

The N.C. Department of Transportation ran its ferries on a 24-hour schedule for nearly two days, helping people get off Ocracoke and Hatteras islands. But ferry service was suspended late Thursday when winds reached 40 mph.

The hurricane could be a serious economic blow to the Carolinas coast.

“Happening in early July, at the heart of the season, that could be devastating economically,” Scott Leggat, vice president of Seaside Vacations and a longtime Hatteras resident, told The News & Observer of Raleigh. He was posted up at his office in Kitty Hawk, worried that he’d be cut off if he stayed home in Rodanthe.

Carol Dawson, owner of two motels and a store on Hatteras, had to ask guests from nearly 70 of her units to leave Thursday. All of them want to come back – so she’ll be watching the recovery efforts closely.

“We basically lost the whole weekend,” Dawson told The News & Observer, tallying the potential damage to her businesses at $40,000, depending on the storm’s effects.

“It’s devastating – it’s devastating. I don’t even know another word,” Dawson said, watching the beach from her store. “We feel like it’s this dark cloud over us.”

The White House said President Barack Obama was briefed Thursday and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to be prepared to help.

The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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