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East Coast Prepares for Hurricane

August 25, 1998

ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. (AP) _ Bill Dunleavy doesn’t need to be told about the power of hurricanes as a 400-mile-wide behemoth named Bonnie packing 115 mph winds hung off the coast.

Nine years ago, deadly Hurricane Hugo smashed ashore here. This morning, hurricane warnings for Bonnie were posted from Murrells Inlet, 65 miles northeast of here, to southern Virginia. The warnings mean dangerous winds and water could hit the area within 24 hours. A hurricane watch remains farther south to Savannah, Ga., an area including Isle of Palms.

``Bonnie who? Don’t ever mention her name around here,″ said Dunleavy, who owns Dunleavy’s Pub on Sullivans Island. ``We had Mr. Hugo come through here and we don’t want to know his sister.″

Across the East Coast, storm savvy residents were stocking up on food and building supplies as they warily eyed Bonnie churning up the Atlantic, hovering out at sea.

``The attitude out here is to wait and see what happens,″ said John Hunter, who owns a hotel and restaurant on Tybee Island near Savannah, Ga. ``There’s nothing you can do about it one way or the other.″

While the storm was still hundreds of miles away, the Atlantic was showing its effects. Gray, white-capped waves hit the New Jersey shore in breakers 4 feet to 6 feet high, pounding onto the beach with a dull roar. In North Carolina, 10-foot waves were reported.

The state of Virginia and some coastal communities elsewhere banned swimming because of rip tides _ strong currents near the beaches _ that are blamed for three drownings over the weekend in South Carolina, North Carolina and Delaware.

``People were getting sucked out left and right,″ said Margate Beach, N.J., lifeguard Mike Palmer. One man was missing Monday in the surf off Point Pleasant Beach.

Under the latest forecast, Bonnie was tracking for the Outer Banks of North Carolina and could bring tropical storm-force winds to the area by Wednesday morning.

Early today, the storm was centered about 500 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., its clouds not even reaching the mainland yet. The hurricane was wobbling toward the northwest at about 9 mph.

``It’s erratic. It could do something weird,″ said Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center near Miami.

If South Carolinians still remember Hurricane Hugo, their northern neighbors haven’t forgotten about Hurricane Fran in 1996.

``It’s really starting to concern people around here,″ said Ronna Lewis, whose modular home on North Carolina’s Topsail Beach, perched four feet off the ground on concrete supports, escaped flooding during Fran by inches. ``It’s just hurry up, wait and see.″

Plywood, batteries and gas cans were the hot items at Bame Ace Hardware in Carolina Beach, N.C.

``It’s pretty hectic,″ said Chris Eason. ``We had people actually coming in with a list of what went wrong last time and are doing it right this time.″

Store owner Vernon Tart opened A to Z Rentals in Wilmington, N.C., at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. He had 15 portable generators available. In 15 minutes, they were gone.

``This is a warm-up storm. For preparedness, it’s wonderful,″ said Steve Lyons, the top hurricane forecaster for The Weather Channel. ``Even if this one doesn’t hit, they’ll have gotten ready and when the next one comes, they won’t have to run around.″

South Carolina Gov. David Beasley told 1,000 National Guardsmen to get ready. Officials estimated there were 125,000 tourists in the state’s beach towns.

But while residents and business owners anxiously watch weather reports, there is one group that welcomes the storm _ surfers.

A red flag warning at the Isle of Palms County Park, S.C., banned swimming because of dangerous currents, so surfers just moved up the beach.

``Unfortunately we have to flirt with disaster to get some good waves,″ surfer Joe Hiller said as he took a break.

Swells of 10 feet were reported along the Outer Banks of North Carolina Monday night and campgrounds on Ocracoke Island _ a small barrier island accessible only by ferry _ were slated to be evacuated this morning, authorities said.

The rip tides caught scores of swimmers unawares. Lifeguards reported 80 rescues on Sunday at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and up to 100 at Atlantic City, N.J.

At one Atlantic City beach on Monday, there were no restrictions on swimming, but guards keep a close eye on the water.

Walt Picot, 37, remained a landlubber alongside his daughter Jenny, 4, and son Mark, 2. They were building a sandcastle instead of bathing.

``They can sense the danger,″ Picot said.

Meanwhile, the weather service said Monday that a tropical depression east of the Caribbean had developed into the fourth tropical storm of the season. Danielle was located about 1400 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, moving northwest about 21 mph.

In Texas, the remnants of Tropical Storm Charley flooded parts of South Texas, leaving much the town of Del Rio near the Rio Grande under water. At least 15 deaths in Texas and Mexico were blamed on the floods.

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