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Dennis Dumps Rain on Carolina Coast

August 30, 1999

ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. (AP) _ Hurricane Dennis turned toward the open ocean today while still punishing North Carolina’s coastline and its fragile barrier islands with drenching rain and high wind that knocked out power to thousands of customers.

By early afternoon, the storm had turned onto an east-northeasterly track and was moving at 18 mph.

``That’s a good sign. I’d rather have it going that way than the other,″ said Bill Frederick of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Frederick said that after accelerating as it heads out to sea, Dennis is expected to stall sometime Tuesday, a couple of hundred miles from the coast. At that time, it will continue to produce high seas and swells, he said.

Meteorologists cautioned that the hurricane’s strong wind still could cause more problems for coastal residents.

``(Dennis) has a very large eye, and the highest winds are well removed from the center,″ said Todd Kimberlain, another meteorologist with the hurricane center.

Hurricane-force wind, of at least 74 mph, extended as much as 80 miles out from the center, and tropical storm-force reached up to 290 miles outward in places, the National Weather Service said.

Hurricane warnings were canceled this morning for the southernmost section of the North Carolina coast, a 66-mile stretch from Sunset Beach to Surf City, the weather service said. Near Wilmington, the bridge to Wrightsville Beach was reopened and residents were allowed to return home.

A hurricane warning remained in effect for the rest of the North Carolina coast, including the Outer Banks islands, and a smattering of residents sought refuge in shelters in several coastal counties. Evacuation orders had been posted for some of the Outer Banks and the bridge linking Bogue Banks island with the mainland was closed today because of the rain and wind.

Waves crested Hatteras Island’s dunes and washed onto N.C. Highway 12, threatening to cut the 60-mile-long barrier island’s only link to Nags Head to the north. Sand blowing across the highway reduced visibility to just yards at times.

On the mainland, a head-on traffic accident blamed on the high wind and heavy rainfall killed two people today at the town of Richlands, police said.

At 1 p.m. EDT, Dennis was centered 95 miles east-southeast of Cape Lookout, and was moving toward the east-northeast at about 18 mph, up from a forward motion of 15 mph an hour earlier. Its maximum sustained wind was down from 100 mph at noon to about 95 mph.

Gusts to 112 mph were reported early today at Frying Pan Shoals, about 25 miles off the coast south of Wilmington, the weather service said.

A tropical storm warning was in effect northward to the Maryland state line and a gale warning extended to Cape Henlopen, Del.

Rain fell at a rate of almost 3 inches an hour along the North Carolina coast and the weather service said 10 inches of rain was possible in some areas. Southport, south of Wilmington, got 8 inches of rain. There was also a chance of isolated tornadoes.

At daybreak, some low-lying streets on Atlantic Beach and parking lots on the mainland at Morehead City flooded, but no streets appeared to be impassable.

More than 50,000 customers were without power today from New Hanover County to as far west as Raleigh in the central part of the state, utilities reported.

Roughly 100 evacuees _ fewer than expected _ sought refuge Sunday night at a Red Cross shelter at a Wilmington school. ``It’s just been a trickle,″ said shelter manager Judy Saunders.

On Sunday afternoon, Gov. Jim Hunt issued emergency and disaster decrees, allowing more resources to be devoted to the storm. Seymour Johnson Air Force Base sent aircraft to bases in Ohio as a precaution.

Vice President Al Gore and his family cut short their 12-day beach vacation on Figure Eight Island, said Tommy Taft, a Greenville attorney and family friend.

But in Atlantic Beach on Sunday, residents took the storm in stride. Few houses were boarded up, including those directly on the coast. Fire officials combed the beachfront, chasing away those who ignored posted warnings.

Just offshore, lone surfer Joey Gray rose and fell on surging swells. ``I think he’s nuts,″ said fire department Lt. Phil Lawrence as he waited for Gray to come ashore.

Once on land, Gray was unfazed. ``I know it has a certain amount of risk,″ he said.

In South Carolina, Dennis had become more a nuisance than a threat as tourists left the coast in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but the rain also brought a measure of relief in a season of drought. Gov. Jim Hodges ordered the National Guard sent home today.

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