COROLLA — With Hurricane Arthur expected to whip past the North Carolina coast early Friday, many vacationers on the Outer Banks were trying to squeeze in a final day on the beach, but others were packing up early to avoid later impacts from the storm.
Corolla residents reported cars lined up at gas stations and water bottles quickly vanishing off store shelves on Thursday morning. More than usual southbound traffic but no backups were reported on N.C. Highway 12 in Currituck.
Corolla Volunteer Fire Department chief Rick Galganski said the station fielded a surge of calls from vacationers uncertain about whether to stay or leave. His advice was to keep listening to radio and television updates about the storm.
On Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was underway. The evacuation for Hatteras Island residents and visitors began at 5 a.m. Officials called it mandatory, but some residents were likely to stay to try to ride out the hurricane, as in past storms.
Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend. Gov. Pat McCrory warned people not to risk their safety by trying to salvage their picnics, barbecues and pre-paid beach cottage vacations.
“Don’t put your stupid hat on,” McCrory said.
This morning, Arthur was about 300 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras and moving north around 9 mph with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. Forecasters expect Arthur to whip past the Outer Banks on Friday without making landfall but still bringing rain, heavy winds, storm surge and dangerous rip tides.
Galganski said a beautiful day on the beach and normal ocean conditions today had enticed many vacationers to wait a little longer before heading out.
He said fire department personnel were in a holding pattern Thursday morning awaiting a decision from Currituck’s Emergency Operations Center on possible evacuations.
“Everything is ready to go unless we’re needed,” he said.
Norman Bibeau with Elan Vacations said guests at beach rentals had mixed reactions to the storm. With no mandatory evacuation ordered, the company was advising guests to follow their own instincts and keep watch on weather updates. He did inform them that the Wright Memorial Bridge would shut down if winds got somewhere around 55 miles per hour.
Currituck officials announced earlier today that they don’t envision the bridge having to be shut down during the storm.
Bibeau guessed about a third of the company’s guests were packing up; others vacationers viewed the approaching storm with a thrill of excitement. Bibeau said he was keeping guests informed through emails and updates on the company’s Facebook page.
Because the storm was supposed to be gone by Saturday, Elan Vacations was not getting cancellations from next week’s vacationers but was fielding questions about what to expect for Saturday’s changeover of beach rentals.
Barbara Marzetti with the Corolla Civic Association saw some vacationers packing up on Thursday morning and noticed more traffic than usual for a Thursday on N.C. 12. The mandatory order to evacuate Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke increased traffic through Currituck on Caratoke Highway although travel advisories had recommended taking U.S. Highway 64 West toward I-95 to prevent traffic tie-ups in case other evacuations were ordered.
Marzetti said she expected most permanent residents would probably stay.
“Right now, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be that bad,” she said.
Outer Banks residents and out-of-town visitors who fail to evacuate ahead of the hurricane’s expected arrival should prepare for possibly getting stuck for several days without food, water or power, National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart said Thursday.
Marzetti said she was making the usual preparations for the storm: gathering up loose items outside, battening down items too big to move, checking water supplies and dog food.
Lynne Wilson, a resident of Swan Beach in the Outer Banks’ off-road area, said vacationers were leaving Thursday. The storm was not a huge spoiler because most vacationers would leave Saturday for the rental changeover anyway, she noted. Leaving a little early could help vacationers avoid traffic tie-ups on Saturday should soundside flooding or wind damage occur, she noted.
“Who knows what it will be like Saturday morning,” said Wilson.
Overman said the site is free to use, and will show the public when Arthur has left the coast and what impact it's had. The little-known cameras have already seen major use from CNN, The Weather Channel, WRAL and other media, he said.