Hurricane Climbs N.C. Coast to Virginia
By Bill McAllister
Hurricane Emily brushed North Carolina's fragile Outer Banks with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph yesterday, flooding villages, uprooting trees, snapping power poles and ripping roofs off buildings. Then the storm, whose eye never went ashore, continued moving toward Virginia.
Winds pushed a surge of water 4 to 8 feet above normal tides into some resort villages lining the narrow barrier islands, and authorities in Virginia Beach prepared for possible coastal flooding today.
At 2 a.m. today, the eye of the storm was reported 90 miles east of Virginia Beach, and Emily was turning slightly to the northeast for the first time, forecasters said. The storm, moving at 12 mph with undiminished winds, was considered likely to move along the Virginia coast overnight, then perhaps shift out to sea.
Forecasters were calling for a 3- to 6-foot storm surge along beaches in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware and in the Chesapeake Bay.
Hurricane warnings remained in place as far north as Cape Henlopen, Del., prompting evacuation of low-lying Assateague Island on the Virginia-Maryland border and voluntary evacuations of Ocean City, Md., and nearby Delaware beaches. In New York, officials ordered 20,000 residents off Fire Island, a barrier island near Long Island Sound.
Along the Outer Banks, from which about 70,000 people have been evacuated since Monday, hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph and heavy rain were reported. On Hatteras Island, the only highway along the thin string of sandy islands, two-lane State Route 12, was impassable in many places as trees and water filled the roadway.
"It's kind of hairy," said freelance photographer Michael Halminski, who stayed at his house with two friends in the village of Waves on Hatteras Island. "The house is shaking around."
At 5:30 p.m., about 90 minutes after the island began feeling the brunt of Emily's westernmost edge, Halminski said winds were gusting to 80 mph. He described as eerie his view of Pamlico Sound, the broad, shallow expanse of water between Hatteras and the North Carolina mainland.
The sound appeared to be "completely dry," all of its water "blown to the south" by the hurricane, he said. "We're just kind of hanging on, hoping for the best. I've got a lot of confidence in my house."
Emily was pushing water across the sound, draining it from the western or landward side of the Outer Banks and dumping it along the mainland and Roanoke Island, forecasters said.
The National Weather Service reported sustained winds of 69 mph with gusts to 98 mph at Cape Hatteras, with an unofficial recording of a 105 mph gust at a ferry dock there. "Considerable flooding" was reported in the Cape Hatteras area.
The Diamond Shoals light tower 14 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras reported sustained winds of 102 mph and gusts to 132 mph.
Authorities in Dare County, which encompasses most of the Outer Banks, reported last night that the most severe damage appeared to be on Hatteras, the barrier island closest to Emily's brush with the area. No injuries had been reported late last night on the Outer Banks.
Officials said that the roof had been blown off a Coast Guard building at Buxton, site of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and that water levels in Hatteras Village were higher than during Hurricane Gloria, a similar sized storm that hit the island and moved on to New York in 1985.
Water was reported 4 feet deep in the yard of village's fire chief and briefly rising at a rate of two feet every 10 minutes before receding.
Trees were down along Route 12 at Frisco and Buxton, and fallen utility poles blocked the entrance to Avon Village. Kerosene pumps were reported blown over at Buxton, and water from Pamlico Sound cut oft-flooded Route 12 at Frisco.
Some mobile homes were reported demolished.
Officials cut power to Hatteras, a long, skinny, sandy island, in late afternoon as winds hit 70 mph. Officials expressed concern that snapped power lines could ignite fires among thousands of resort homes along the strand.
The Weather Channel reported last night from Kitty Hawk on the northern end of the Outer Banks that four houses were swept into the ocean and that erosion was widespread along the shore. Well into the night, sporadic strong winds and bands of rain were reported throughout the area, including 15-foot breakers at Duck to the north.
At 9:30 p.m., Halminski said that winds had begun to decrease in Waves and that water was returning to the sound. "I think the worst is behind us," he said. "It seems like we were awfully lucky."
Near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, Jack and Betty Rollinson stayed in their wood frame house, Knight-Ridder news service reported. A creek that meanders behind their expansive back yard swelled to a swirling river that rose to within 20 feet of their home. "We've never had flooding like this before," Betty Rollinson, 55, said.
Jack's mother, Hilda, 78, was born in the Hatteras lighthouse and said she has never fled the island for a storm. Her first hurricane was in 1933.
"I'm too old for starting now," said Rollinson, daughter of the late lighthouse keeper. But, she added: "They scare you to death."
The region had not seen such storm damage since springtime northeasters caused extensive erosion, flooding and building damage in 1992 and this year. In August 1991, Hurricane Bob brought sustained winds of 115 mph but passed well to the east and had little effect until it moved farther north.
Last night, the only death attributed to Hurricane Emily was that of Anthony Turner, 15, of Chesapeake, Va., believed to have been pulled into the surf while attempting to swim at Virginia Beach yesterday morning. Police called off the search for his body about 12:45 p.m. because wind-whipped surf became too dangerous for search crews, Officer Lou Thurston of the Virginia Beach police said.
Virginia Beach police had banned swimming, surfing and jet-skiing because of danger from the strong waves and placed red warning flags along the beach. Six people were arrested for swimming after it was prohibited, a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine.
Mandatory evacuations helped ease the threat of death and injury along the North Carolina islands and coastal mainland, packed with vacationers in the last week before the Labor Day weekend.
People were ordered to leave four coastal counties, including Dare, which includes most of the barrier islands and Halminski's home, and low-lying areas of Virginia Beach, the most populous city in that state. But officials were not enforcing the requirement, merely demanding that residents who chose to ride out the storm give them names of next of kin.
Officials in five other coastal counties urged voluntary evacuations of low-lying areas, prompting North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. (D) to estimate that 250,000 people had left coastal areas by last night, many of them heading for 18 emergency shelters operated by the Red Cross.
Many Carolinians decided not to leave, expressing hope that Emily, described as far less lethal than the last two major Atlantic storms, Hugo and Andrew, would skirt north along the barrier islands and veer into the northeastern Atlantic.
"Where would I go? Go to Washington and face all the problems there?" asked David Stick, 73, a noted author who has chronicled the history of the barrier islands and the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," as the hazardous coastal waters are known.
"I'm taking a chance, I suppose, because of the wind. . . . You can never tell about these things," Stick said in a telephone interview from his 8-year-old house in Kitty Hawk. He said he was confident that his home was "high enough" to survive the storm.
Typifying the attitude of many longtime residents of the islands, about 600 people remained on Ocracoke, authorities said. The narrow island, reachable only by ferry from Hatteras Island and from the mainland, was isolated early in the day as high winds halted ferry service.
"The waves are incredible," Finis Craft II, a clerk at Blackbeard's Lodge on the island, told the Associated Press. The owners left, but Craft said he stayed behind, watching the storm from a third-floor suite.
Late last night, David Styron, a commissioner in Hyde County, which includes the island, told Associated Press, "All in all, Ocracoke Island came through this one pretty good." Styron, who lives on Ocracoke, stayed there during the storm.
Emily was not one of history's fastest-moving hurricanes, poking forward at about 7 to 9 mph before yesterday morning when it intensified and gained speed across the warm waters of the Gulf Stream near Cape Hatteras. There, it became strong enough to be classified a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson rating of hurricanes' damage potential on a scale of 1 to 5.
Category 3 storms carry sustained winds of 111 to 130 mph.
By contrast, Hurricane Andrew was moving almost twice as fast when it struck South Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, then hit Louisiana the next day.
The National Weather Service forecast for above-normal tides in the Virginia-Maryland-Delaware area included acknowledgement that tides were being pushed higher than usual yesterday by the confluence with the month's second full moon.
In Virginia, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D) declared a state of emergency as a precaution Monday night and put the Virginia National Guard on alert.
James K. Spore, city manager in Virginia Beach, ordered people in flood-prone areas, which included some trailer parks and Virginia Beach's exclusive Sandbridge neighborhood near the North Carolina border, to "monitor conditions and make appropriate decisions" about whether to stay.
The city and the Red Cross opened five shelters at local schools, where turnout was reported light late yesterday.
Norfolk city officials also declared an emergency and opened shelters.
At Norfolk Naval Base, most docks were empty after 28 ships were sent to sea Monday. "The captains would generally rather ride it out at sea," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Ted Brown, an Atlantic Fleet spokesman. "They've got a lot more maneuverability."
About as many ships were left in port, mainly sheltered at Little Creek Naval Base. Others were under repair and could not be moved easily. The Navy also moved about 1,800 sailors inland from the Dam Neck training facility near the oceanfront at Sandbridge.
Although forecasters said Emily was likely to bypass the New York area, high waves and rough water could isolate Fire Island residents from the mainland, making ferry boats the only public transportation to or from the island dangerous and difficult to operate.
Fire Island was ravaged last December and March by northeasters that caused severe erosion and collapsed houses, further weakening the island's natural geological defenses.
In Kitty Hawk last night, historian Stick was planning to dine with friends, even as the wind continued to blow in Emily's aftermath.
Stick recalled that the most damaging storm in the Outer Banks in recent years was not a hurricane but the "Ash Wednesday" storm of 1962. That tropical disturbance hit the area by surprise and destroyed two-thirds of the 1,400 buildings then in Kitty Hawk, he said.
Contributing to this report were staff writers Peter Baker and John F. Harris in Virginia Beach; Malcolm Gladwell in Greenville, N.C.; Mary Jordan in Nags Head, N.C., and David Montgomery in Ocean City, Md.; staff researcher Barbara J. Saffir in Washington, and special correspondent Rachel E. Stassen-Berger in New York.
© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company