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Downgraded but still dangerous: Maria brings wind, flooding to OBX; hundreds evacuated

Scenes from the Outer Banks as Hurricane Maria skirts NC coast

Wind, waves and localized flooding from Hurricane Maria start to impact the Outer Banks of North Carolina Tuesday, September 26, 2017.
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Wind, waves and localized flooding from Hurricane Maria start to impact the Outer Banks of North Carolina Tuesday, September 26, 2017.

Outer Banks residents were told Tuesday morning to finish preparing their homes and businesses because the North Carolina coast would see tropical-storm-force winds and likely flooding overnight as Hurricane Maria slogged north 100 to 150 miles off the North Carolina coast.

Maria was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm by late Tuesday afternoon, but weather officials warned the storm was still dangerous.

A storm surge warning was issued Tuesday morning between the Ocracoke Inlet and Cape Hatteras, where “life-threatening inundation levels” are expected throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center reported.

Storm surge is a rising of the sea as a result of atmospheric pressure changes and wind associated with a storm, such as a hurricane or tropical storm, that can cause extensive flooding.

High water levels are expected through Thursday, the National Weather Service said. With water already covering some roadways in the Outer Banks, conditions were expected to worsen .

A storm surge watch also was issued for the Pamlico Sound, the Lower Neuse River and Alligator River.

“North Carolina is weathering the storm well so far, but it’s early and we can’t let our guard down,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “Maria’s effects will last through tomorrow and beyond and I urge people in coastal areas to stay alert and ready.”

Officials in Dare and Hyde counties declared states of emergency and earlier ordered all visitors to leave Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.

More than 800 customers were without power in the Havelock area near Cherry Point, according to Duke Energy Progress, and power was expected to take several hours to restore.

Rodanthe Pier operator Clyde Thompson checks for pier damage as wind and waves related to Hurricane Maria start to impact the Outer Banks of North Carolina Tuesday morning, September 26, 2017.

The ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke and back at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. was canceled on Monday, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation Ferry Division. Evacuation ferry service from Ocracoke was canceled Tuesday morning because of sea conditions. One ferry will stand by at the island pier in case of emergency, officials said. NCDOT reported that 898 people and 495 vehicles were evacuated from Ocracoke island.

Ferry service from Hatteras also was suspended early Tuesday, and officials said they would evaluate whether it could resume during the day. The ferry terminal at the north end of Ocracoke Island suffered beach erosion that claimed a portion of the paved lanes where vehicles line up to board the ferries.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a notice Tuesday morning that the Port of Morehead City was closed to ships leaving or entering because gale-force winds were expected. The notice, called “Condition Zulu,” requires all freight-handling to stop and tells vessels headed for Morehead City to divert to another port.

The Outer Banks forecast called for sustained winds of 35-45 mph and gusts of 50-60 mph.

“Visitors on Hatteras Island should pack all of their belongings and depart as soon as possible, before conditions deteriorate and driving becomes hazardous,” Dare County said in a statement. “Be sure to communicate with your accommodations provider before leaving.”

Dare County schools were closed Tuesday and schools in Carteret and Tyrrell counties and on Ocracoke Island in Hyde County dismissed early “due to possible high winds from Hurricane Maria.”

By Tuesday morning, water completely covered N.C. 12 and was rising.

“Motorists should proceed with caution, drive slowly through standing water, and stay off Highway 12 during periods of high tide,” officials advised.

In the Triangle, the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is cloudy and humid, but only a 10 percent chance of rain and wind gusting from 6 to 9 mph.

The Outer Banks could see up to 2 inches of rain through Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline. Dangerous ocean conditions, including large waves and life-threatening rip currents, also are expected.

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