Emily leaves damage on Outer Banks, relief elsewhere



BUXTON, N.C. (AP)—After six days and tens of thousands of evacuations from North Carolina to New York, Hurricane Emily struck only a glancing blow to a narrow island chain before dashing off to the North Atlantic.

‘‘We dodged a bullet,’‘ Gene Chiellini of the National Weather Service in New Jersey said Wednesday.

Evacuation orders were lifted from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to New York’s Long Island and people returned to many Atlantic beaches. Surfers, often the last to leave in the face of a storm, dotted the waves once more.

Later Wednesday, two men were swept out to sea by a rip current under a fishing pier in Nags Head, while a third man man was rescued by a surfer.

Rescue workers called off the search for the missing swimmers after dark but planned to continue Thursday.

On the New Jersey shore, lifeguards kept a close eye on bathers battling 3- to 10-foot waves and powerful riptides. Swimming was banned at some beaches in New Jersey and Maryland and only wading was allowed elsewhere because of rough surf.

Many business owners spent Wednesday removing the tape and boards they had put over windows in preparation for the storm that didn’t come.

‘‘It’s the normal thing you should do when the National Weather Service issues a hurricane warning for where you live and you live on a barrier island,’‘ carpenter Ronnie Powell said as he removed plywood from a store in Ocean City, Md. ‘‘It’s much easier to do this and hope for the best.’‘

But some villagers who rode out Emily’s brush with the easternmost islands in the low-lying Outer Banks said the storm brought the worst flooding in decades.

The storm was sidetracked by upper atmosphere air currents and its eye missed Cape Hatteras by 20 miles. It spread heavy rain along the Virginia coast before it moved out to sea.

At 5 p.m., Emily’s center was estimated at about 190 miles south of Nantucket Island, Mass., near latitude 38.5 north and longitude 69.8 west.

It was on a track that would cross shipping lanes, and still had wind blowing at a sustained 115 mph, though it was expected to weaken, said Hugh Cobb, a meteorologist at National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla. It was moving to the east-northeast at 18 mph, he said.

By midday Thursday, Emily was expected to be about 240 miles south of Nova Scotia, and by midday Friday it should be about 350 miles south of Newfoundland, he said.

Emily’s 115 mph wind, high tide and spin-off tornadoes left pockets of destruction. Emily’s maximum sustained wind speed reached an estimated 115 mph near the eye, the National Weather Service said; on the Outer Banks, sustained wind of 98 mph was measured at Buxton, near Cape Hatteras.

Emily’s storm surge brought water rising as much as 9 feet above the harbor bulkheads at Buxton.

A helicopter tour of the Outer Banks showed only a few structures destroyed.

‘‘It jogged to the east right before it hit,’‘ state Insurance Commissioner Jim Long said. ‘‘Otherwise, we could have seen more damage than we can handle.’‘

Nasa and Doris Jennette lost their house to the surge.

‘We didn’t have time to get anything, it came up so fast,’‘ said Mrs. Jennette, who waded through waist-deep water with her husband to flee to a friend’s house.

‘‘I’ve been here 64 years and this is the worst I’ve seen,’‘ Jennette said. ‘‘I looked out and watched it rise and then the next thing I knew it was coming through the floor vents.’‘

Hatteras Lighthouse was untouched, but at nearby Coast Guard housing roofs were peeled back like the lids of sardine tins. A truck was immersed in a sink hole after the sand was washed out from under it in Buxton. Broken water mains left hundreds without water.

In Frisco, there were water marks 3 feet high on storefronts and a church.

Bonnie Farkas weathered the storm in a mobile home that ended up covered with fallen trees and filled with water.

‘‘Every minute there was another crash,’‘ she said as Gov. Jim Hunt surveyed the damage. Hunt said he would consider seeking a disaster declaration for the area.

Dare County Sheriff Bert Austin said flooding forced him out of the department’s Hatteras office.

‘‘I was in there when the tide made its surge. We’ve never had water in it before and it was built in the ’50s,‘’ he said.

Hurricane Bob was the last to brush the Outer Banks, on Aug. 19, 1991. The eye of that storm stayed offshore but wind up to 60 mph left about $1 million damage on the Outer Banks.

In Nags Head, the swimmers apparently swept out to sea were described as tourists from Texas in their late 20s or early 30s. Authorities weren’t immediately able to identify them.

Rick Patterson, a surfer from Kill Devil Hills, said he rescued a third man, who was identified only as a tourist from Alabama.

Patterson said he swam into the surf and grabbed the man, pulling him to the beach while the other two were swept out.

‘‘I saw a big wave, saw the bodies curving under it, and then the wave slammed ’em,‘’ said Patterson, an emergency medical technician. ‘‘It was the last I saw of them. I wanted to go out there, but the waves were crashing too hard.’‘