Hurricane batters Outer Banks



MANTEO, N.C. (AP)—Hurricane Emily blew away roofs and swamped the Outer Banks on Tuesday as it slowly brushed by the fragile island chain, pounding the sandy shoreline with 15-foot waves during a full-moon high tide.

But the hurricane’s eye, with 115 mph wind swirling around it, stayed just offshore. Forecasters said it likely would be the storm’s closest encounter with the U.S. mainland, though hurricane conditions were expected overnight in southeastern Virginia.

‘‘The house is shaking terribly from the wind and waves. Water is pouring in everywhere, from cracks in the doors and windows and from the roof,’‘ Irene Nolan said from her home in the tiny seaside village of Frisco, where she rode out the storm.

‘‘Everything under the house … is floating down the street with the current,’‘ she said.

Many buildings along Ocracoke and Hatteras islands lost their roofs as wind gusts topped 90 mph, said Dare County emergency management officials, who abandoned their operations center on Hatteras because of flooding.

Cars were floating in a bank parking lot in Buxton, and fallen trees were blocking roads, said the National Weather Service in Buxton, which also reported flooding in the yard of its office, a mile inland from Pamlico Sound.

The extent of the damage wouldn’t be known before morning. ‘‘It’s too dark to say. There’s no power down there. But at the crack of dawn, we’ll be down there,’‘ Dare County spokesman Ray Sturza said.

The center of the hurricane got as close as about 20 miles due east of Cape Hatteras late Tuesday afternoon, and the eye wall—the region of strongest wind around the calm eye—moved over Hatteras Island, said Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center.

No part of the eye crossed land, however. The eye had grown to 45 miles wide Tuesday evening and was 35 to 40 miles due east of Oregon Inlet at 10 p.m.

The slow-moving hurricane was passing as an exceptionally high full-moon tide peaked at about 8 p.m. It was expected to create a tidal surge 6 to 8 feet high, though the weather service said flooding reports on Hatteras indicated the surge was even higher.

The storm also was forecast to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain in its path.

Two houses at Kitty Hawk that had been damaged by previous storms fell into the Atlantic. Fifteen-foot waves were reported at a pier in Duck, just north of Kitty Hawk.

No injuries were immediately reported, though to the north, a swimmer was missing in heavy surf in Virginia.

The weather service in Buxton recorded sustained wind of 58 mph with gusts to 98 mph. The Diamond Shoals light tower 14 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras had sustained wind of 102 mph with gusts as high as 132 mph.

Tens of thousands of residents and tourists had fled the Outer Banks, the chain of narrow, low-lying sandy islets off the North Carolina coast, though hundreds

Farther north, hurricane warnings were in effect to Cape Henlopen, Del., while heavy surf caused minor flooding along the southern shore of New York’s Long Island, where 20,000 people on Fire Island were ordered to evacuate.

But forecasters were expecting the hurricane to skirt the Mid-Atlantic Coast on Tuesday night, then turn to the northeast sometime Wednesday and veer offshore, sparing the Northeast its worst fury.

At 10 p.m., the center of the hurricane was near 35.8 north latitude and 74.9 west longitude, about 90 miles south-southeast of Virginia Beach, Va. The storm, which had been moving generally toward the northwest earlier in the day, had curved toward the north and, later, slightly toward the north-northeast. Its forward motion was nearly 12 mph, up from 9 mph earlier Tuesday.

Sheets estimated maximum sustained wind speed around the eye at 115 mph, extending outward nearly 35 miles. But the strongest winds were east of the eye, away from shore.

The storm had strengthened during the day as it gathered energy from the warm Gulf Stream offshore. It reached Category 3 on the one-to-five Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

Military aircraft and ships had been moved out of the area. The Navy moved about 1,800 people from its Dam Neck Fleet Combat Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va., near the ocean after sandbagging vulnerable areas and taping windows.

Campers were evacuated from a federal park on Assateague Island on the Mayland shore, and the roughly 125,000 tourists in Ocean City, Md., were urged to flee inland.

In Manteo, on Roanoke Island between the banks and the mainland, fishermen had reinforced mooring lines to their boats before the hurricane hit.

How many lines are enough? ‘‘As many as you can get on one cleat,’‘ Daniel Davis yelled as he tied up a friend’s boat.