Snail-paced Ophelia moves out to sea

The snail-paced Ophelia, downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, picked up speed and moved out to sea early on Friday after a three-day drenching of North Carolina in the United States that was far less severe than many had anticipated.

Coastal residents to the south, where the storm’s gusty wind ripped apart businesses and damaged homes, were hit hardest.

“It just beat us and beat us and beat us,” said Laurie Garner, whose boyfriend’s restaurant was severely damaged at Salter Path on Bogue Banks, south of the Outer Banks.

While the storm’s centre was staying off shore, rain bands were continuing to move over the Outer Banks, the National Hurricane Centre said.

Governor Mike Easley said gauging the scope of the damage is difficult because of the storm’s slow path, first affecting the state’s south-eastern coast on Tuesday and then crawling north and east on Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s almost like working three different storms,” Easley said.

Ophelia was downgraded to a tropical storm and its sustained winds dropped to 104kph, the hurricane centre said early on Friday.

More than 9 600 homes and businesses remained without power early on Friday in eastern North Carolina, utilities said, down from a high of more than 200 000. But the mainland has not seen the severe flooding many feared.

“I’ve been coming down here for 25 years—this is nothing,” said Tim Kifer (51), of Chicago, who had stopped by a marina in Manteo to check out the waters of Roanoke Sound.

A moment later, a jogger plodded by along the docks, seemingly oblivious to the hurricane swirling off the coast.

The storm was blamed for one traffic death. Earlier, a surfer disappeared in rough water off the coast of South Carolina.

On the Outer Banks, Dare County officials said Hatteras Island reported gusts up to 152kph.
Other than power outages, the island was in pretty good shape, said county spokesperson Sharon Sullivan.

Ophelia, which looped and meandered north since forming off the Florida coast last week, was picking up speed early on Friday, moving north-east at about 12kph, the hurricane centre said.

A tropical-storm watch was in effect for south-eastern Massachusetts, including Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, as well as for south-east Nova Scotia.

Ophelia is the 15th named storm and seventh named hurricane of this year’s busy Atlantic season, which ends on November 30.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writers Margaret Lillard in Salter Path, Gary Robertson in Wilmington and Natalie Gott and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh contributed to this report

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