WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — After triggering tornadoes in South Carolina, Hurricane Dorian was closing in for a possible direct hit Friday on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a string of low-lying islands, even as it weakened to a Category 1 storm.
On Ocracoke Island, near the southern end of the 200-mile-long (320-kilometer) string of barrier islands and spits, about 500 of the 1,000 residents have stuck around to face the storm, said Ann Warner, the owner of Howard’s Pub on the island.
“The boats are tied down. Yards are cleaned up. Businesses are closed. People are hunkered down,” Warner said by phone Thursday.
The ferries stopped service on Wednesday, she noted.
“It’s too late to leave,” Warner said. “If you want to change your mind, it’s too late. We’re on our own.”
Further north, Virginia was also in harm’s way, and a round of evacuations was ordered there.
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, grazed Georgia, and then hugged the South Carolina-North Carolina coastline. At least four deaths in the Southeast have been blamed on the storm.
Twisters spun off by Dorian peeled away roofs and flipped trailers in South Carolina, and more than 250,000 homes and businesses were left without power. Dorian’s winds weakened after sunset Thursday to 100 mph (161 kph), before falling further early Friday to 90 mph (145 kph), making it a Category 1 storm.
In coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, heavy rain fell horizontally, trees bent in the wind and traffic lights swayed as the hurricane drew near.
Overnight winds were expected to cause trees and branches to fall on power lines, and debris could block repair crews from accessing damaged lines, said Mike Burnette senior vice president of Electric Cooperatives, a utility provider in North Carolina. Customers should prepare for prolonged power outages, he said.
“We have a long night ahead of us. Everyone needs to stay in a safe place and off the roads until the storm passes,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.
About 150 evacuees were camped out at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, speedway spokesman Scott Cooper said.
Leslie Lanier, 61, was one of those who decided to stay behind on Ocracoke Island. She boarded up her home and bookstore, making sure to move the volumes higher.
“I think we’re in for a great big mess,” said Lanier.
On Thursday, 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.
The four deaths attributed to the storm in the mainland U.S. took place in Florida and North Carolina. All of them involved men who died in falls or by electrocution while trimming trees, putting up storm shutters or otherwise getting ready for the hurricane.
As of early Friday, Dorian was centered around 55 miles (89 kilometers) east of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 30 miles (48 kilometers) south-southwest of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, moving northeast at 15 mph (24 kph). The storm is expected to weaken slowly over the next few days, but will likely remain a hurricane as it moves along the coast of North Carolina.
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.