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Hurricane Alex Elbows N. Carolina

August 04, 2004|From Associated Press

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 evening, Alex was moving back out into the Atlantic.

The eye of the storm passed Cape Hatteras, leaving the east side of the hurricane -- with the strongest wind and heaviest rain -- out at sea instead of battering communities still recovering from Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

"This is different from Isabel last year, which came into the coast perpendicularly and went inland and into Virginia," said Richard Knabb, meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "This is comparatively a grazing blow, but still a pretty significant one for Cape Hatteras and areas nearby there."

The storm strengthened before reaching the coast Tuesday morning -- a development that didn't surprise Malcolm Peele, a resident of Frisco on Hatteras Island. Before Alex gained strength, Peele called the hurricane a "sucker punch" of a storm, adding, "Those are the ones you've got to watch out for."

No injuries were reported, Gov. Michael F. Easley said in a statement. The National Guard was called in to help along some parts of the coast.

Waves washing ashore on Hatteras Island made the island's only highway impassable for much of the day from Oregon Inlet, at the north end of the island, to near the town of Avon, the weather service said. The highway connects to the mainland north of Oregon Inlet.

At the Comfort Inn in Buxton, south of Rodanthe, hotel manager Pat Cavanaugh watched ice machines and trash bins float down the highway. "This is far worse than I expected," he said.

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