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Bands of rain from Hurricane Arthur moved into the southwestern end of the North Carolina coast Thursday morning, and the National Hurricane Center said sustained winds in the storm had risen to 80 mph.
A hurricane warning covers the coast from border to border, and the hurricane center said Arthurs core was likely to reach the coast Thursday night.
The storm was moving northeast at 9 mph Thursday morning and was expected to pick up speed during the day, overnight Thursday and on Friday as it bears down on North Carolina and then goes past.
All of the coast is in the storms path. The weather will hit hardest overnight Thursday, but forecasters say Arthur will leave a salvageable Fourth of July weekend for hundreds of thousands of beach-bound visitors.
National Guard soldiers, state heavy-equipment crews and emergency responders hustled into position Wednesday to get ahead of the storm.
Ocracoke Island was under voluntary evacuation, and Dare County authorities issued a mandatory evacuation for Hatteras Island.
The state Department of Transportation began running more frequent ferries from Hatteras and Ocracoke at 5 a.m.
While the current forecast does not indicate Arthur will cause major damage, we are taking this storm very seriously, said Michael Sprayberry, the states emergency management director, in a news release.
As of 5 a.m.Thursday, the coastline south of Surf City was under hurricane watch.
Arthur is expected to enter the waters off North Carolinas southern coast Thursday evening. The coast could see surges, high seas and dangerous rip currents as Arthur approaches.
North Carolinas eastern edge may see winds between 74 and 110 mph once Arthur arrives, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and isolated tornadoes may appear. Inland areas will see rain and thunderstorms, forecasters predicted.
Storm surges of 2 to 4 feet are expected for the Outer Banks and Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. Rainfall accumulations could reach as high as 6 inches in some areas.
Think well be fine
This would be the first hurricane to hit North Carolina since Sandy in 2012. The July Fourth holiday weekend brings an extra concern, because the big storms rarely hit so early in the season.
Forecasters expect clear weather by Friday afternoon.
I think well be fine. The reports are for a fast-moving storm, and thats helpful, said Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. As long as it stays off the coast, I think thatll help as well.
National Park Service campgrounds along several beaches were shut down Wednesday until further notice, along with the lighthouses at Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island.
The locals are ignoring it. The newcomers are in a panic. Lowes (Foods) parking lot is slammed, said Clayton Red White, a general contractor in Morehead City. There wont be a bottle of beer or loaf of bread left on the shelf.
The coastal communities of Manteo, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Avon and Atlantic Beach all delayed their Fourth of July fireworks planned for Friday. Would-be visitors were flooding local businesses with questions.
With a storm coming, supposedly, we have a lot of people calling. I tell them they know as much I do, said Barbara Gray, an employee of the Outer Banks Motel on Hatteras Island.
Callers were worried about the entire weekend, she said, even though forecasters say the weather will clear on Friday. Gray expected at least some people to cancel their trips.
Just to the southwest, hundreds of visitors were leaving Ocracoke Island because of the voluntary evacuation and the closing of campgrounds and beaches, according to Justin Gibbs, emergency services director for Hyde County.
Authorities definitely do not want people venturing out on the beach, since theyll have seas building 10 to 15 feet in the Ocracoke vicinity, Gibbs said.
To speed the Ocracoke evacuation, the state Department of Transportation was running more-frequent ferry service and using extra boats for trips to Hatteras, and waiving tolls for trips to Cedar Island and Swan Quarter on the mainland. DOT said the storm probably will disrupt ferry service on Thursday.
Britton Shackelford, who has been fishing off the Outer Banks for 25 years, said any summer storm can hurt business for his charter company.
Its summertime, man, Shackelford said. From the third week of June until the third week of August, you cant fit another person down here on the beach. Its full occupancy.
He was hoping to run trips Thursday, with one eye on the barometer, then get his ship, the Doghouse, buttoned up in a Wanchese marina that night. He was unsure whether hell be on the water Friday.
When something like this comes, its going to be a disruption, Shackelford said. How much of a disruption, well have to see.
Meanwhile, the N.C. National Guard has deployed 30 soldiers, several Humvees and other high-water-capable vehicles to its Kinston armory.
Quieter in Triangle
The Triangle will be quieter. The forecast near Raleigh for Thursday is a 50 percent chance of rain, with possible heavy thunderstorms. The expected chance of rain increases to 60 percent for Thursday night, then falls to 30 percent for the Fourth of July.
After it drubs North Carolina, forecasters expect Arthur will head out to sea, perhaps on toward Nova Scotia as it weakens.
Back at the Outer Banks, tourism guru Lee Nettles already found a silver lining, though hes taking the storm seriously. With the delays for fireworks ceremonies, the Fourth of July will last a little longer on the coast.
Theyve all been rescheduled, but for different times, Nettles said. You can come down and appreciate the fireworks Saturday, Sunday and Monday night. Maybe that makes us more patriotic.
Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC