After stalling at sea for a week, Hurricane Ophelia battered the coast of North Carolina on Wednesday, spawning blinding rains that flooded beach communities and left thousands farther inland without power.
The storm, rated Category 1 by the National Weather Service with sustained winds of 85 miles an hour, is expected to scrape the shoreline from Cape Fear to the Outer Banks through Thursday, where a northeasterly track may take it out to sea.
Officials said that voluntary evacuations went smoothly and that by 3 p.m. Wednesday, 519 people had taken refuge in shelters.
Residents and officials alike said the cataclysmic effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast had made little difference in how they responded to the storm.
“We felt we were as prepared as we could be,” said Mayor Spence Broadhurst of Wilmington. “Katrina didn't play any role in the process. We have a very clear plan.”
Still, Mr. Broadhurst added, “I wouldn't be human if the effects of that storm did not have an effect on my thought process,” reports New York Times.
According to Bloomberg, the storm caused power outages to 78,000 customers, said Tom Mather, a spokesman for the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center.
“We expect that to increase quite a bit,” he said. The center received “a number of requests” for flood rescue teams from coastal Brunswick County.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has 32 people working in the state and more on their way, Mather said. He didn't know how many more FEMA workers were expected. About 315 National Guard members have been deployed, and 50 more are expected, Mather said.
“It's not Katrina, but the fact is it's a slow-moving storm, so we're seeing an extensive period of very heavy rainfall and very damaging winds,” National Hurricane Center spokesman Hugo Cobb said.
The U.S. Census Bureau said about 2.4 million people live on the North Carolina and Virginia coasts, where hurricane or tropical storm-force winds may hit.