As the threat from Hurricane Arthur disappeared from the North Carolina coast Friday, leaving minimal damage, state officials began their campaign to bring tourists back for what’s left of the July Fourth weekend.
“It will be a beautiful weekend, so get out and enjoy our beaches,” Gov. Pat McCrory said as the Category 2 storm weakened on its way to southeastern New England.
McCrory reported only glancing blows to coastal N.C. communities and beaches. “We are thankful that our visitors and citizens were kept safe during this storm, and I urge continued caution to beachgoers” because of strong rip currents at Outer Banks beaches and the effects from a moderate storm surge in inland sounds and rivers.
Yet the governor’s main message was: Come back. Many of the barrier islands had been evacuated over two days of the most important tourism week of the summer.
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The season’s first hurricane whipped through the Outer Banks with 100 mph winds and heavy rain before moving north.
No serious injuries were reported from the historic storm, the earliest hurricane to hit North Carolina since records began in 1851, according to the National Hurricane Center. The previous record was July 11, 1901.
By Friday night, the storm had been downgraded to a Category 1 and prepared to take one last swipe at the East Coast. The storm was expected to drop up to 3 inches of rain on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in Massachusetts. Maine’s Down East coast could receive up to 6 inches.
In Kitty Hawk, Danny Greeson was in his grocery store when Arthur hit around 4 a.m. Friday.
The storm stirred up plenty of noise.
“It was flopping and chopping,” said Greeson, 50, owner of Winks Grocery on North Virginia Dare Trail. “But we fared really well. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, we had a foot of water in the store. I’m thankful this one was no worse than it was.”
Flooding was still an issue in some areas. On Friday afternoon, more than 19,000 residents continued to be without power in the coastal counties of Carteret, Beaufort, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, New Hanover, Pamlico, Pender and Tyrrell. All shelters had closed.
N.C. Department of Transportation officials said preliminary reports showed some damage on the Outer Banks, particularly in the area of Hatteras Island.
N.C. 12 was closed Friday from the Bonner Bridge south to Ocracoke because of sound-side flooding, sand on the road and downed power poles.
McCrory said that the state’s goal was to have the Bonner Bridge and N.C. 12 open by late Saturday, but Oregon Inlet was still too turbulent for a sonar boat crew to evaluate the bridge’s footings.
Some flooding hit downtown Manteo on Roanoke Island. The causeway between Manteo and Nags Head on the Outer Banks was closed.
The N.C. Ferry Division reopened ferry service to Ocracoke from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island late Friday – but with restrictions. On Saturday, road crews and residents will be allowed on Ocracoke Island, but no visitors. The same is true for Sunday, though visitors may be allowed depending on recovery. Residents and visitors will be allowed to leave Ocracoke for Cedar Island or Swan Quarter at any time.
Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said that National Guard units and most county emergency operation centers were standing down, though the state emergency center would remain open until the last county facility has closed.
Greeson opened his grocery store as usual at 6 a.m. Friday, knowing how lucky he was.
“We didn’t lose power, and we had 70 to 80 mph gusts,” he said. “I really feel for the people on Hatteras where it’s pretty much under water. It’s four feet deep in downtown Manteo. There’s no telling how deep it is on Hatteras.”
But for Greeson, business was good, and the first customers arrived early.
“They’re a bunch of old guys who come in and shoot the bull,” Greeson said. “Friday they talked about the storm. They were glad it didn’t wipe us out.”
Carol Dawson, the owner of two motels, a deli and a clothing store on Hatteras Island, said that area was still a ghost town.
“It’s beautiful here now,” Dawson said. “It’s in the 80s, and there are no winds. People would be loving it here.”
As the hurricane blew north, McCrory’s campaigning wasn’t needed to lure back tourists for July Fourth festivities. Hotels reported that some vacationers canceled reservations before the storm, but others arrived to take their place as Arthur headed north.
“The umbrellas are going up as we speak,” McCrory said. “North Carolina beaches are open for business.” The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.