ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. — Hurricane Dennis edged seaward 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 late morning, the storm had turned slightly onto an east-northeasterly track."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 over the next day Dennis is expected to accelerate as it heads out to sea, but then 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.However, 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 12 noon, Dennis was centered 90 miles southeast of Cape Lookout, or 105 miles east of Wilmington, and was moving toward the east-northeast at about 15 mph. Its maximum sustained wind blew at about 100 mph.

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