Irene Threatening Carolinas
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) _ Hurricane Irene rumbled up the East Coast on Saturday, taking aim at flood-weary North Carolina, where residents began all-too-familiar preparations for another onslaught.
Officials considered evacuations and warned that it wouldn’t take much rain to push rivers in the eastern part of the state back above flood stages. Irene’s 80-mph winds also could threaten camper villages populated by people left homeless by the floods.
Paul Buday, whose government-provided camper is parked in his soggy yard, wore rubber gloves and boots Saturday as he hauled sodden carpeting and furniture to the street. Hurricane Floyd left water 16 inches deep in his brick home across the street from the Neuse River near Goldsboro, but Buday wasn’t fretting about Irene just yet.
``Right now it doesn’t worry me, but I don’t know what I’ll feel like tomorrow,″ Buday said. ``The river’s down. I don’t think we’ll have a problem.″
So far, the storm has been blamed for at least seven deaths _ two in Cuba and five people near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who were electrocuted by downed power lines. After drenching Cuba’s tobacco fields and collapsing buildings in Havana, Irene rolled ashore Friday afternoon 75 miles southwest of Miami and headed north through the Everglades.
At its worst, the storm knocked out power to more than 1.5 million customers, according to Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility. Electricity was restored to about half of them by midday Saturday. As much as 18 inches of wind-driven rain caused scattered flooding over hundreds of miles, from Key West to West Palm Beach.
Irene intensified slightly as it headed north. Its 80 mph sustained winds were 6 mph more than the threshold for a hurricane and the storm was moving north at 12 mph.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, the center of the storm was about 285 miles south of Charleston, S.C.., and moving north near 10 mph.
Projections from the National Hurricane Center put the ragged eye of the storm near Cape Romain, just northeast of Charleston, by Sunday afternoon _ and it was expected to make landfall near the North Carolina-South Carolina state line late Sunday.
It was exactly a month ago Saturday that thousands of coastal residents returned home after fleeing Hurricane Floyd, which destroyed than 6,000 buildings and damaged 9,000 others. At least 49 deaths and damage expected to exceed Hurricane Fran’s record $6 billion in 1996 were blamed on the huge storm. Piles of soggy furniture and ruined toys and appliances still line roads throughout the region.
Rain was already falling in southeastern North Carolina Saturday afternoon.
``There’s no place for this rainfall to go, so any little bit of rain that we get from this hurricane could immediately cause flooding,″ said Laura Furgione, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Newport on the central North Carolina coast.
A hurricane warning was in effect from Savannah, Ga., to Cape Hatteras, N.C., and a hurricane watch was posted for north of Cape Hatteras to the Virginia border. A tropical storm warning remained in effect north of Vero Beach, Fla.
Emergency management officials discussed possible evacuations in Brunswick and New Hanover counties, where the hurricane warnings were in effect, and visitors were ordered off the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Officials worried about the villages of campers set up as temporary housing for people whose homes were ruined by Floyd’s floods.
Tom Ditt at the state emergency management office said officials were planning to reopen shelters Saturday.
``A major concern is that a lot of these individuals that we removed from shelters into safe haven in these RV parks, those RVs cannot handle even tropical storm force winds, probably,″ Furgione said.