Tropical Storm Ernesto hits Carolina coast

Tropical Storm Ernesto hit North Carolina near hurricane strength on Thursday, flooding some coastal areas in both Carolina states though there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The centre of Ernesto made landfall at Long Beach, sustaining winds of around 113kph, just short of the 119kph needed for hurricane status, the United States National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

“Rain is the big story. It is putting down copious amounts of rain across the south-east and probably is going to continue as it tracks on up to the north,” said meteorologist Michael Caropolo of the National Weather Service.

There were numerous reports of flooding and closed roads near Wilmington, North Carolina, he said, adding there was up to 30cm of rain in Brunswick county on the South Carolina border.

Ernesto was expected to maintain tropical storm strength into Friday afternoon as it moved north through eastern North Carolina.

Patty McQuillan, spokesperson for North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, confirmed flooding reports but said: “So far, there have been no deaths or injuries.

Ernesto sloshed through Florida on Wednesday after becoming the Atlantic storm season’s first hurricane near Haiti.

Forecasters said it could bring 10 to 20cm of rain to areas from north-eastern South Carolina to the mid-Atlantic states, with 30cm in isolated areas. Residents remember Hurricane Floyd’s catastrophic flooding in 1999.

Rainfall of up to 25cm caused problems on some on North Carolina highways, said the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford both activated National Guard troops to deal with Ernesto.
North Carolina deployed rescue teams to central and eastern parts of the state and put helicopters on stand-by.

Eye of the storm

Along North Carolina’s Outer Banks there was little panic.

“The eye kind of crossed right beside us so we had a little lull ... After the lull was over, it started to pour down rain for a brief period,” said Bald Head Island fire chief Chip Munna. The night so far was “pretty eventless,” he said.

US Highway 17, a north-south coastal route, was flooded in southern and central portions of the state along with several secondary roads, Andrew Sawyer, a state emergency management spokesman, told Reuters.

The state ports at Wilmington and Morehead City shut on Thursday because of the storm, the US Coast Guard said.

Ernesto was moving north-northeast at about 25kph and would likely decrease in speed and turn north over the next 24 hours, the hurricane centre said at 2am (6am GMT).

Hurricane Floyd, a Category Two storm with winds near 167kph, killed 56 people and caused up to $6-billion worth of damage when it triggered huge floods seven years ago. It hammered North Carolina’s farming industry, killing tens of thousands of hogs and chickens.

Ernesto had at one point been forecast to reach Florida as a potential Category-Three storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. But it moved ashore as a much weaker storm and did little damage in the state. - Reuters

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