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Hurricane Arthur is moving across the coastal sounds and Outer Banks of North Carolina this morning with speed and power, bringing tidal surge, winds of 100 mph, heavy rain, flooding and power outages to an area usually having one of its best days on the Fourth of July.
Arthur made landfall late Thursday near Cape Lookout as a strong Category 2 storm, pushing waves of three to five feet onto the barrier islands and across Pamlico Sound.
The National Hurricane Center said Arthur is the earliest hurricane to hit North Carolina since records began in 1851. The previous record was July 11, 1901.
While early predictions had suggested that Arthur would give the state only a glancing blow, its track shifted farther to the west as it approached, with the storm center passing early this morning on the inland side of Cape Hatteras.
With those changes, Gov. Pat McCrory warned Thursday evening about a heightened risk of inland flooding.
We did not expect this western movement four or five hours ago, McCrory told reporters in Raleigh. Now we have concerns about people inland who may be impacted by potential flooding of rivers going over their banks.
Hurricane-force winds extended as much as 35 miles inland, and much of the coast is at risk of storm-surge flooding of several feet.
McCrory also said 11 counties had declared a state of emergency and 14 shelters were open. Emergency officials will be evaluating the damage this morning, including any at the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet in Dare County. The bridge has been closed for the duration of the storm.
As of 4 a.m., there were no reports of injuries from the storm.
McCrory said he had heard "some positive things" about southern portions of North Carolina's coast, as the hurricane passed offshore during low tide, but he warned people across the entire coastal area to continue to exercise caution. He also thanked emergency responders who have been preparing for the storm.
Arthur narrowly missed Wilmington at 8 p.m. Thursday. In Morehead City, the storm's eye loomed about 40 miles south at 10 p.m., but the weather had been surprisingly calm until about 9:30. Wind and rain had been sporadic all day, but the wind increased late Thursday, with trees dancing at a moderate pace and a big trash bin taking flight. Power was still on, though many restaurants had closed early.
By 4 a.m. Friday morning, Arthur's center was heading into Albemarle Sound, poised to make a second landfall on the sound side of the northern Outer Banks. It was moving northeast at 25 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Advance advisories were posted all the way into eastern Canada, but Arthur is expected to weaken and become a post-tropical system before it gets there.
Hurricane-force winds extended about 40 miles from the storm's eye, according to the NWS, with a continued risk for storm surge, rip currents and 4 to 6 inches of rain for parts of the Outer Banks.
There also were sporadic tornado warnings inland as Arthur's arms sprawled across the eastern half of the state, sending bands of stormy weather west and north. A tornado was confirmed Thursday in Duplin County and a funnel cloud was spotted near Elm City.
By 1 a.m. Friday, Duke Energy had reported about 16,500 customers without power in Carteret County, with about another 1,000 outages in both Craven and New Hanover counties. Tideland EMC was reporting more than 2,000 outages in Pamlico, Hyde and Craven counties.
Some left, some stayed
The evacuation orders prompted Outer Banks visitors to weigh the time and money invested in their vacations against the worrisome wind-speed predictions.
We dont know anything about hurricanes I mean were from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said Beth Berger, 46, who abandoned a weeklong house rental on Hatteras Island.
In the Outer Banks, evacuation efforts ended Thursday with the shutdown of Pamlico Sound ferries. Business owners on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands feared that Arthur will be the worst of the recent years setbacks.
For Outer Banks residents, the hurricanes path across Pamlico Sound brought dread and deja vu.
This is a badly needed weekend for the businesses here. For three straight years, weve lost the entire fall season, said Carol Dawson, who owns two motels and a store at the Hatteras Island village of Buxton.
In recent years, hurricanes Irene and Sandy and problems with Bonner Bridge have cut off N.C. 12, the mainland link to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
The presence of 100-mph winds whipping water through the sound meant that both the channel routes of the Pamlico Sound ferry boats and low-lying N.C. 12 to Hatteras could be washed away.
Anticipating damage, the state government parked an array of heavy equipment along the coast and prepared a sonar boat to examine the aging Bonner Bridge after the storm.
Countless tourism dollars probably ride on the results of that check and on early ferry runs and power-line repairs.
An early hurricane
The coast hasnt seen such an early hurricane in recent history.
Happening in early July, at the heart of the season, that could be devastating economically, said Scott Leggat, vice president of Seaside Vacations and a longtime Hatteras resident.
Its a weird hurricane, said Lee Gallagher, the bartender at Backstreet Pub in Beaufort, the seat of Carteret County, not far from the storms expected landfall. Usually we have more warning, hearing about it as it rises up. This time it was sudden.
State and federal authorities talked up the storms threat beforehand, deploying hundreds of workers and a small National Guard force to help victims of the storm and to clean up its aftermath.
Arthur also brought several evacuations around the coast, particularly Pamlico Sound to mixed results, as always.
Ocracoke Island saw up to 4,300 people, roughly half its summertime population, depart by ferry on Wednesday and Thursday. The voluntary evacuation selected by Hyde County commissioners made it easier for some people to stay.
Its very, very busy, said Tommy Hutcherson, whose family owns the Ocracoke Variety Store. Theres a lot of people still on the island.
Hatteras Island, under mandatory evacuation, also saw droves depart. Beth Berger and her husband, the Wisconsin visitors, pulled their truck into steady traffic along N.C. 12 at 4 a.m. Thursday.
This morning, you couldnt have made a left-hand turn onto N.C. 12, said Leggat.
Among those leaving coastal areas were about 1,600 campers at Camp Seafarer and Camp Sea Gull in Arapahoe. Seeing Arthur coming, the YMCA-run camps began to make plans for scores of charter buses to transport kids and staff alike to Wake County buildings owned by the school system.
They think of every little detail food, entertainment, what are they going to do tonight, said Jennifer Nelson, a spokeswoman for YMCA of the Triangle. Its not something thats happening overnight.
For the campers, along with about 300 staffers, it was set to be something of an adventure.
At Buxton, Dawson had to ask guests from nearly 70 of her motel units to leave Thursday morning.
We basically lost the whole weekend, Dawson said. She tallied the potential damage to her businesses at $40,000, depending on the storms effects.
She said the state and federal governments have been too lax in caring for island roads and beaches, leaving the Outer Banks vulnerable to heavy economic damage.
It does wear on you, but this is where youre at, said Hutcherson, who agrees that the past few years have been particularly rough.
Dawson estimated that at least 30 Hatteras Island businesses, many with long tenures, have closed in the past few years.
Its devastating. I dont even know another word, she said wearily, watching the beach from her store on Thursday afternoon.
The money that people were counting on this weekend is going to make the difference between people surviving and not surviving, this weekend, Dawson said. Almost we feel like its this dark cloud over us.
Staff writers Ron Gallagher and Paul A. Specht contributed to this report.
Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC