NORTH HARLOWE — First, Irene came knocking, shaking the walls and rattling the windows. Then, as the water rose out of the Neuse River into housing developments along its banks in Craven County, the rescue teams started pounding on the doors.
"One by one, looking for structural collapse and signs of life," Capt. John Keeter of the Harlowe Volunteer Fire Department said Saturday.
Twenty to 30 houses in the Great Neck area of the county near Havelock were destroyed by flooding from the river as a result of Hurricane Irene, Keeter said, including some that were rebuilt after being damaged by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. In some places, he said, wind-borne waves in the Neuse River knocked down walls and tossed around the bricks.
Keeter's department, which includes three stations and three dozen volunteers, had to ask for help. Search and rescue teams came from Henderson County and other areas to canvass homes that had become islands surrounded by several feet of water.
Crews rescued people from homes using small boats and high-clearance trucks. Keeter said there had been no injuries reported by Saturday night.
Flooding, from tidal surges combined with several inches of rain, appeared to be the biggest threat from Irene in Craven and neighboring Carteret County. The storm came in with less fearsome winds than expected, but it pounded the coast all day Saturday as forecast, with tropical-storm force gusts and rain. The wetter the ground became and the longer the wind blew, the more trees that came down across roads and power lines.
"I think it fulfilled its obligations," Keeter said.
Pounding wind and rain kept coastal residents locked inside for more than 24 hours, except for emergency workers and determined sight-seers. It took that long for the huge storm to traverse the coastline. Residents got a short respite in the middle, when the eye passed over, before the assault resumed.
Myla Guthrie knew her neighbors in the down east community of Harkers Island would expect her to open the Seaside convenience mart if she could. After a big storm, it's often the only thing open for miles.
"People need gas for their generators and other stuff," Guthrie said. The store was running on generator power, too, and phones in the area were out. She had to run tabs for people paying with credit because the transactions wouldn't go through.
Still, the general feeling was the storm wasn't as bad as feared.
"I slept through last night," said Gina Griffin, who stayed at home in Beaufort through the hurricane, her first.
The town's narrow streets were covered with live oak branches and scattered leaves.
Not bad as expected
Wren Johnson, Morehead City's police chief, had nearly her entire 39-member force on duty or standing by based on weather forecasts that said Irene could be the first Category 3 storm to hit the town since the early 1900s.
No injuries were reported except for a man who was knocked down by the wind and bumped his head.
Officers will be busy once the weather calms and people come out to relieve cabin fever and survey the scene. The power is out to most of the area.
"Unless the power comes back on we'll have to go out and work those intersections to keep people from running into each other," Johnson said.
The hurricane attracted at least three teams of storm-chasers, Johnson said. They were out in their SUVs at the height of the storm sticking meters into the wind to take measurements.
Utility crews are waiting for the wind to die down. When it does, they will begin the work of restoring downed power lines.
"Other than the wind and the rain stopping, those utility trucks are our favorite sight," Johnson said.
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