WILMINGTON, N.C. - A weakened Hurricane Dorian flooded homes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Friday with a fury that took even storm-hardened residents by surprise, forcing people to retreat to their attics. Hundreds were feared trapped by high water, and neighbors used boats to rescue one another.
Sheriff’s officials rushed medics and other rescuers to Ocracoke Island — accessible only by boat or air — to reach those who made the mistake of defying mandatory evacuation orders along the 200-mile (320-kilometer) ribbon of low-lying islands that stick out from the Eastern Seaboard like the side-view mirror on a car.
“There is significant concern about hundreds of people trapped on Ocracoke Island,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Its winds down to 90 mph (145 kph), Dorian howled over the Outer Banks as a far weaker storm than the brute that wreaked havoc on the Bahamas at the start of the week. Just when it looked as if its run up the Southeast coast was coming to a relatively quiet end, the Category 1 hurricane lashed communities with rain and surging seas, sending water coursing onto the main floors of elevated homes.
Over and over, longtime residents said that they had never seen flooding so bad, or that things that had never flooded before were inundated.
“The wall of water just came rushing through the island from the sound side. And it just started looking like a bathtub, very quickly,” said Steve Harris, who has lived on Ocracoke Island for most of the last 19 years. “We went from almost no water to 4 to 6 feet in a matter of minutes.”
Harris said people were getting around the island by boat, and authorities were using military vehicles to reach those stranded. He said he was fortunate to live on the third floor of a condo building but lost his car to the storm.
Around midmorning, the eye of the storm came ashore at Cape Hatteras, Dorian’s first landfall in the continental U.S. after a week and half in which it spread fear up and down the coast and kept people guessing as to where it would go.
Another Ocracoke Island resident, bookshop owner Leslie Lanier, said via text message that the first floors of some homes had flooded and people had been forced to climb to their attics, but that the water had already begun to drop.
“We are flooding like crazy,” she said, adding: “I have been here 32 years and not seen this.”
Ocracoke Island resident and restaurant owner Jason Wells likewise said the flooding was the worst he had ever seen or heard of.
“Several people were rescued from their upper floors or attics by boat by good Samaritans,” Wells said in a text message. He said he wasn’t aware of any serious injuries.
The Coast Guard began landing aircraft on the island to drop off local law enforcement officers and evacuate a resident in need of medical care. Authorities told people to get to the highest point in their homes as they waited to be rescued.
In Buxton on Hatteras Island, close to where Dorian blew ashore, Radio Hatteras volunteer Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy said that people were calling in to report that “houses are shaking like crazy” and that “it’s never been like this before.”
Danny Couch, a resident of Buxton and a Dare County commissioner, said that the storm sent crab traps flying, breaking windshields.
“I was out there, and stuff flying around, road signs and stuff,” he said. “It’s crazy. I don’t want to be a statistic.”
He added: “It’s godawful. It’s a storm of record, no doubt.”
As of 2 p.m. EDT, Dorian was moving northeast at 21 mph (34 kph). The center of the storm had pushed past the Outer Banks and was about 125 miles (200 km) northeast of Cape Hatteras.
It is expected to remain a hurricane as it sweeps up the Eastern Seaboard through Saturday, veering far enough offshore that its hurricane-force winds are unlikely to pose any threat to land in the U.S.
More than 350,000 people were without electricity in the Carolinas and Virginia as Dorian moved up the coast.
The eye of Dorian will likely push off the Outer Banks and out to sea later Friday morning.
At least four deaths in Southeast were blamed on Dorian. All were men in Florida or North Carolina who died in falls or by electrocution while trimming trees, putting up storm shutters or otherwise getting ready for the hurricane.
More than a quarter-million residents and visitors had been ordered to evacuate the North Carolina island chain ahead of the storm. But many Outer Banks residents tied down their boats, removed objects from their yards that could blow away, and hunkered down.
Dorian slammed the Bahamas at the start of the week with 185 mph (295 kph) winds, killing at least 30 people and obliterating countless homes. From there, it swept past Florida and Georgia, then sideswiped the Carolinas on Thursday, spinning off tornadoes that peeled away roofs and flipped recreational vehicles.
Still, the damage was far less than feared in many parts of the Carolinas, including historic Charleston, South Carolina, which is prone to flooding even from ordinary storms, and Wilmington, North Carolina, the state’s biggest coastal city.
Joseph Pawlick went out Friday morning to rake leaves, twigs and other debris blown from the sidewalk outside his Wilmington home.
“I slept like a baby last night. This, thankfully, was not bad,” he said.
Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson, Martha Waggoner and Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Seth Borenstein in Washington.