Irene hammers North Carolina but damage not as bad as expected, officials say


Photo: Courtesy of Brian Rokus/CNN

CNN Producer Brian Rokus was on the first flight by the USCG to survey the North Carolina Coast line. Fifth District Rear Admiral William Lee was live on CNN during the 8 p.m. broadcast, describing the scene. He reported limited damage due to Hurricane Irene in the initial survey.

CNN Wire Service

A furious Hurricane Irene exacted a heavy toll on North Carolina, claiming at least five lives, peeling siding off houses and plunging hundreds of thousands of homes in darkness.

And yet, it could have been much worse, said the U.S. Coast Guard.

“All in all, the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as we had expected,” said Rear Adm. William Lee, who surveyed the coastline on a helicopter tour from Cape Lookout to Wilmington. “Very few trees were down. I saw evidence of minor flooding.”

Three of North Carolina’s deaths involved traffic wrecks during the storm. Another person died when he was hit by a tree limb, while feeding livestock. A fifth died of a heart attack as he was putting plywood over this windows ahead of the storm’s arrival.

Some 450,000 were without power early Sunday, officials said.

Irene stomped across the state most of the day Saturday after a morning landfall near Cape Lookout at the southern end of the Outer Banks.

The storm ripped shingles and siding off buildings in Atlantic Beach, knocked over a church steeple and flooded homes in low-lying areas. At least 10 major roads were closed and airports were forced to shut down, Gov. Bev purdue said.

The hurricane unleashed 10 to 14 inches of rain over much of North Carolina and pushed a 4-foot storm surge into the Chesapeake Bay, the National Hurricane Center said.

As of midnight Saturday, Kill Devil Hills had endured 31 hours of nonstop rainfall. Firefighters waded through knee-high floodwaters as they responded to calls in the community.

The nearby town of Wanchese was reported under water, officials said.

In Duck, N.C., the storm pushed water from the Currituck Sound inlet out to the sea, said resident Gregg Nigro.

“Once the storm’s eye passes and the wind shifts, we will see flooding and erosion,” he said Saturday.

In Greenville, Mike Sharpe woke to find water under his living room door.

“The front parking lot is just as flooded, and the cars have water up past their doors,” he said. “Everybody’s a little worried. We didn’t expect to have any flooding. That’s something we weren’t prepared for.”

Glenn Williams watched the storm from his downtown Raleigh office.

“I just come down here in the hurricane because it’s safer than it is at home where all the trees are at,” he told CNN affiliate WRAL-TV.

By early Sunday morning, Irene had hammered the state with 10 to 14 inches of rain.

Through it all, residents maintained their good humor.

In Kill Devil Hills, the boarded-up shop windows displayed spray-painted missives to Irene: “I have enough women in my life, Irene,” said one. “No crabs for Irene,” said another at a seafood shop. “Don’t be mean, Irene,” said a third.

In some areas, beachcombers looked for any shells Irene had deposited.

Surfers reveled at their good fortune at Wrightsville Beach, taking advantage of the bigger waves dished up in the aftermath of the storm.

“It’s the wind and the waves and the culture,” Dane Reynolds telling WRAL why he was out in the post-storm surf. “It’s all about the culture of the surf community.”