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Hurricane Spares Most of N. Carolina

September 01, 1993|DAVID LAMB and JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

DUCK, N.C. — The wild winds of Hurricane Emily, gusting at more than 130 m.p.h., slapped at the Outer Banks islands Tuesday, then veered north along the Eastern Seaboard, sparing most of North Carolina but terrorizing tourists and residents from Virginia to Long Island.

Fifteen-foot waves slammed the pier at this tiny town on the Outer Banks as the hurricane conspired with an 8 p.m. EDT high tide, tugged even higher by a full moon. Trees crashed across roads, and rain swamped cars. The wind peaked at 132 m.p.h. at a light tower southeast of Cape Hatteras. Pounding surf drowned a swimmer off Virginia.

But the eye of the storm never hit land. Swirling wind in the eye wall--the fiercest part of the hurricane--swept across Cape Hatteras, encountered an offshore cold front and skittered upward along the coast, sending vacationers scurrying to safety from Virginia to as far away as New York's Fire Island, where 20,000 people were ordered to flee.

At 11 p.m. local time, Emily's eye hovered 90 miles southeast of Virginia Beach, Va. It was moving north-northeast at about 13 m.p.h., with sustained winds estimated at 115 m.p.h. The storm was expected to skirt the Mid-Atlantic coast, then turn to the northeast today and blow back out to sea. If it does so without a wobble, most of the East Coast will escape.

Emily passed the Outer Banks as the full moon tide peaked at about 8 p.m. The combination of storm, tide and moon raised ocean swells to 15 feet. More than 150,000 people already had fled the barrier islands and the nearby coast of North Carolina. Heavy surf washed across the barrier beaches from the Atlantic Ocean on the outside and Pamlico Sound inside.

One road connects the Outer Banks. It was closed to all but local residents from Hatteras to Nags Head. Ferry service to Ocracoke Island was disrupted by high seas. Waves crashed through two houses at Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, sustained flights in a power-driven airplane.

Both houses fell into the Atlantic. Officials said the houses, badly battered by earlier storms, already had been condemned.

The Outer Banks had a spooky feeling of abandonment. Expensive beachfront homes stood boarded up and deserted. Streets were empty, stores closed, shopping malls lifeless. The wind raged across sand dunes, buffeting the pines and wax myrtle bushes.

In the little town of Southern Shores, Vernon Hart and Elizabeth Sawyer sat by the ambulance they drive, surveying a lone car making its way through afternoon rain.

Its headlights glared.

"This is how it used to be years ago," Sawyer said, "before all the tourists discovered the Outer Banks."

Ed Brooks, owner of Tommy's Market, one of the few stores that stayed open, said: "All the tourists I know left, except for a couple from Denver.

"They were just determined to stay and they asked me, from my experience, what I'd advise. I told the man, 'You're not big enough or strong enough to take on a 100-m.p.h. wind. Stay inside and stay away from the ocean. And frankly, be ready to be excited because hurricanes are exciting as hell."

In the town of Duck, Dick Murphy, a retired Army officer, and his wife, Susan, a realtor, filled their bathtub with water, put their patio furniture in the swimming pool and placed three heavy-duty flashlights on the kitchen counter.

"It's an eerie feeling, like waiting for a blizzard in New England," Murphy said. "But it's worse than a blizzard because you know there's going to be damage along the coast and you feel for those people."

To lessen the possibility of looting, beer and alcohol sales were banned in Duck and surrounding Dare County.

"Have I thought about evacuating?" asked resident Glen Miller. "Sure, every minute I think about it. I'd leave in a minute if the winds were going to be 150 m.p.h. But this house has seen 115-m.p.h. winds. It can handle that."

Of gravest concern to Miller was his beloved 20-foot powerboat, Carefree. He lashed it down in a marina slip and took a photograph of it--just in case it didn't make it through the night.

Outer Banks residents said the ocean was likely to breach some protective dunes along coast roads and that some beachfront homes could be endangered by eroding sands.

"You're going to have wooden walkways carried away, shingles blown off," said Dan Purcel, a carpenter. "Same thing happened when (Hurricane) Gloria came through here a couple of years ago. I was busy for six weeks after that one, fixing up people's homes."

On Atlantic Beach, an Outer Banks island off Morehead City, N.C., windows in homes and businesses were covered with boards. Restaurants were closed, and the Sheraton and Holiday Inn hotels were evacuated.

The only public place to eat was McDonald's.

Carol Lohr, director of tourism for Carteret County, which includes Atlantic Beach, Morehead City and Beaufort, the third-oldest city in North Carolina, called the area "truly blessed" because the worst of the hurricane had passed it by.

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