Stranded North Carolinians take stock of Dorian’s damage

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(Connie Leinbach/Ocracoke Observer via AP)

NAGS HEAD, N.C. (AP) — As the sky cleared and floodwaters receded Saturday, residents of North Carolina’s Outer Banks began to assess the damage wrought by Hurricane Dorian.Full Coverage: Hurricane Dorian

Steve Harris has lived on Ocracoke Island for most of the last 19 years. He’s ridden out eight hurricanes, but he said he’d never seen a storm bring such devastation to his community, which is accessible only by boat or air and is popular with tourists for its undeveloped beaches.

“We just thought it was gonna be a normal blow,” Harris, a semi-retired contractor, said Friday. “But the damage is going to be severe this time. This is flooding of biblical proportions.”

Gov. Roy Cooper said about 800 people had remained on the island to wait out Dorian and it appeared to be the hardest hit. The storm made landfall Friday morning over the Outer Banks as a far weaker storm than the monster that devastated the Bahamas. Yet despite having been downgraded to a Category 1 storm, it still sent seawater surging over neighborhoods on Ocracoke, flooding the first floors of many homes.

Harris lost his car to the storm and his air conditioning is damaged, but he said he’s blessed that his condominium is on the third floor and he is insured. Of the 11 units in his complex, seven had water in them, he said.

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“It’s just a strange picture,” Harris said. “If you’ve been a regular guest down here for years, you can’t imagine what we saw.”

The U.S. Coast Guard began landing local law enforcement officers on the island Friday by helicopter and airlifting out the sick, elderly and others in distress, Hyde County authorities said. Officers were doing door-to-door checks and offering water and food to residents, according to the sheriff’s office.

By Friday evening, the governor said officials were aware of no serious injuries on the Outer Banks from the storm. People in need of temporary housing were being taken to a shelter on the mainland, said Cooper, who added that points farther north along the Outer Banks also received damage from Dorian.

Access to Hatteras Island was closed Saturday morning, according to emergency management officials in Dare County.

Connie Leinbach, who publishes the Ocracoke Observer newspaper, said sheriff’s deputies and other rescue personnel performed at least two rescues from attics. She said the Coast Guard was called in to help a man who was having problems with his oxygen.

“We’ve got a ton of water here. It’s more than (Hurricane) Matthew,” Leinbach said, comparing it to the damaging 2016 storm.

Dorian is expected to remain a hurricane as it sweeps up the Eastern Seaboard through Saturday. While tropical-storm force winds are buffeting southeastern Massachusetts and could sweep into Maine later Saturday, hurricane-force winds are unlikely to pose any threat to land in the U.S.

Canadian officials are expecting Dorian to remain a Category 1 hurricane when it makes landfall in Nova Scotia later Saturday.

Canadian Hurricane Centre meteorologist Ian Hubbard said Saturday the storm is expected to lose its title as a hurricane as it crosses the province.

However, the U.S. hurricane center said even if Dorian downgrades to a tropical storm, hurricane conditions are expected in portions of eastern Nova Scotia and western Newfoundland by late Saturday or early Sunday.

Hubbard said the last hurricanes to make landfall in Canada were Hurricane Igor and Hurricane Earl in September, 2010. Hurricanes in Canada are somewhat rare in part because once the storms reach colder Canadian waters, they lose their main source of energy.

At least four deaths in the 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.

As Dorian closed in, more than a quarter-million residents and visitors were ordered to evacuate the Outer Banks, which stick out from the Eastern Seaboard like the sideview mirror on a car. But many just tied down their boats, removed objects that could blow away from their yards, and hunkered down.

Dorian slammed the Bahamas at the start of the week with 185 mph (295 kph) winds, killing at least 43 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.

“Right now, it appears we’ve had no loss of life,” Harris said of Ocracoke. “We’re trying to make sure everybody is safe, but it’s going to be a long recovery.”


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; Rob Gillies in Toronto; and Seth Borenstein in Washington.

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