Hurricane Causes N.C. Coastal Floods

BUXTON, N.C. -- A stronger-than-expected Hurricane Alex brushed North Carolina's coast Tuesday, cutting power to thousands and flooding Hatteras Island's only link to the mainland but sparing the area a direct hit.

The storm grew to hurricane strength, 74 mph, early in the day and by midday the sustained wind around its eye had revved up to nearly 100 mph, with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center said. By Tuesday night, Alex was back in the Atlantic and headed away from land.

The eye of the storm just barely passed by Cape Hatteras, leaving the east side of the hurricane -- where the strongest wind and heaviest rain are located -- out at sea instead of battering communities still recovering from last year's devastating Hurricane Isabel.

Alex struck "a grazing blow" compared with Isabel "but still a pretty significant one for Cape Hatteras," said Richard Knabb, a meteorologist with the Miami-based hurricane center.

Damage was worst on Ocracoke Island, where authorities said houses and at least 100 cars were flooded, dunes were washed away and the main highway overflowed with water and sand.

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-- From News Services

Abandoning a truck, the Coast Guard's Erin Lopez, left, and Matt Caviness wade through Buxton, N.C., flooding.