Sunday, September 11, 2005
MIAMI, Sept. 10 -- Hurricane Ophelia inched toward the coasts of the Carolinas on Saturday, prompting forecasters to place parts of two Atlantic states on a hurricane watch and the governor of North Carolina to declare a state of emergency.
Local officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for nonresidents on the low-lying vacation island of Ocracoke on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
The watch issued by the National Hurricane Center in Miami cautioned millions of residents that fierce winds and other hurricane conditions were possible within 36 hours along America's southeastern coast from the Savannah River in South Carolina to Cape Lookout in North Carolina.
Sustained winds had been gauged as high as 80 mph within Ophelia, which was centered 235 miles south of Cape Haterras, N.C., at 11 p.m., according to a hurricane center advisory.
The forecasters, who said the hurricane watch may be extended farther north, described Ophelia as a stationary Category 1 hurricane that could slowly strengthen by Sunday night.
More than 3,000 tourists and 800 residents were on Ocracoke Island, which is reachable only by boat or plane, according to Hyde County Emergency Management Coordinator Tony Spencer.
"The evacuation is going orderly, but a lot of folks don't understand the logistics of needing to evacuate early," Spencer said in a telephone interview.
No other North Carolina county was under an evacuation order, a spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Center said.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, in declaring a state of emergency, said tropical storm-force winds and rain were expected to be felt in North Carolina on Monday and would strengthen through the day to hurricane-force winds.
North Carolina officials plan a briefing Sunday to detail preparations for the storm.
In South Carolina, Charleston County officials announced that shelters would be open Saturday evening for voluntary evacuees from low-lying areas and barrier islands.
Ophelia, which has repeatedly weakened and regained strength, had parked off the coast of Florida for three days and lashed the state's Atlantic coast with squalls and beach-eroding waves.
There had been concern as Ophelia formed that it could threaten the Gulf Coast, which is recovering from the Aug. 29 strike by the much more powerful Hurricane Katrina.