WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Dorian howled over North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Friday, lashing the low-lying barrier islands as a weakened Category 1 hurricane.
Dorian’s eye was 10 miles off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, as the storm moved northeast at 14 mph (22 kph). It’s expected to remain a hurricane as it sweeps up the Eastern Seaboard Friday and Saturday, lashing the New England shore with heavy surf.
Forecasters said large and destructive waves could reach nearly to the ceilings of one-story structures along the 200-mile (320-kilometer) string of barrier islands and spits. Earlier Friday, the eye passed just to the east of Cape Lookout, the southernmost point in the island chain.
“Do not let your guard down,” Dare County emergency managers warned people who insisted on riding out the storm. Water levels were dropping on the western side of the islands, but that water will return rapidly as winds shift, “bringing extreme soundside flooding for some areas,” the county said.
Ann Warner, who owns Howard’s Pub on Ocracoke Island, said people did what they could to prepare.
“The boats are tied down. Yards are cleaned up. Businesses are closed. People are hunkered down,” Warner said by phone on Thursday.
She lives near the southern end of island chain, and said about half the 1,000 residents of Ocracoke stuck it out. Ferries stopped service the day before, so “If you want to change your mind, it’s too late. We’re on our own.”
The hurricane hammered the Bahamas with 185 mph (295 kph) winds, killing at least 30 people, but swept past Florida at a relatively safe distance and merely grazed Georgia before hugging the South Carolina-North Carolina coastline. At least four people were killed in the U.S.; all were men in Florida or North Carolina who died in falls or by electrocution while trimming trees, putting up storm shutters or otherwise getting ready for the hurricane.
More than 370,000 people were without electricity early Friday in the Carolinas and Virginia, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide.
Twisters spun off by Dorian peeled away some roofs and flipped recreational vehicles in South and North Carolina before it weakened early Friday to 90 mph (145 kph), making it a Category 1 storm.
Heavy rain fell horizontally in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, where trees bent in the wind and traffic lights swayed. About a dozen roads were flooded, but it was nothing like last year’s Hurricane Florence, which battered the city and closed bridges, isolating the city for days.
“We prepared for the worst and that didn’t happen. That’s OK,” said Ross Page, out walking his dogs early Friday after waking up without electricity. “We got lucky.”
Dorian swamped roads in historic downtown of Charleston, South Carolina, and knocked down some 150 trees and toppled power lines. Gusts had topped 80 mph (129 kph) in some areas. The port city of handsome antebellum homes sits on a peninsula that is prone to flooding even from ordinary storms.
Dorian apparently spawned at least one tornado in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, damaging several homes, and another twister touched down in the beach town of Emerald Isle, North Carolina, mangling and overturning several trailer homes in a jumble of sheet metal. No immediate injuries were reported.
Navy ships were ordered to ride out the storm at sea, and military aircraft were moved inland. More than 700 airline flights scheduled for Thursday and Friday were canceled. Hundreds of shelter animals were airlifted from coastal South Carolina to Delaware.
Associated Press reporters Meg Kinnard in Charleston, South Carolina; Russ Bynum in Tybee Island, Georgia; Skip Foreman in Charlotte, North Carolina; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.