Thousands leaving NC coast as Maria churns up surf

LUMBERTON — While the North Carolina coast is seeing vacationers leave and enduring high surf and rip tides because of Tropical Storm Maria, Robeson County is being left high and dry.

Those dry conditions are expected to last until at least Tuesday, said Michael Ross, of the National Weather Service office in Wilmington. No Maria-generated winds or rain was forecast in Robeson County on Tuesday and the chances for such are even smaller today.

“The system will be farther away by tomorrow,” Ross said Tuesday. “And it will be even farther away on Thursday.”

The National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center predicted Maria to begin turning away from the United States coastline Tuesday and today. The storm is expected to begin moving east-northeast and be far into the Atlantic by Friday afternoon.

The Carolinas coast from Georgetown, S.C., to above Wilmington were under a small craft advisory and a beach hazard at of 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Large swells from Maria create the high threat of rip currents and a dangerous shore break along Onslow County beaches with breaking surf of 6 to 10 feet. The dangerous surf conditions were expected to last into today.

As of 5:10 p.m. Tuesday Maria was a tropical storm. The National Hurricane Center said Maria’s top sustained winds had dropped Tuesday to near 70 mph, ending a nine-day run as a hurricane.

The center remained far offshore, centered about 160 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras and moving north at 7 mph. Still, a tropical storm warning was in effect for the North Carolina coast from Bogue Inlet to the Virginia border, and meteorologists said a storm surge could hit from Ocracoke Inlet to Cape Hatteras.

Thousands of visitors abandoned their beach vacations and evacuated North Carolina’s Outer Banks asMaria churned up high surf that through dunes and under homes.

More than 10,000 visitors were told to leave the North Carolina barrier islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke, but the evacuation orders didn’t apply to local residents, who are now resigning themselves to economic losses as well as more flood damage after a double pounding by last year’s tropical weather.

Sarah Midgett lost her car during Hermine and her home was severely damaged by Matthew’s floods. After the dunes got hit by Jose this month, Maria pushed through the weakened natural barrier on Tuesday, washing over parts of Hatteras.

“It’s insane how much the beach has eroded,” said Midgett, who moved many of her belongings off her floor, just in case.

Scientists say Maria will is predicted to erode more than half the dunes along North Carolina’s 300-mile (485-kilometer) coast. Beaches in Maryland and Virginia could fare even worse, with two-thirds seeing erosion and the ocean washing over the dunes on one-third of them, according to the U.S. Geological Survey .

In the town of Waves, kite surfing instructors lost a solid week of reservations after tourists were forced to evacuate. Adrienne Kina, who normally works as a saleswoman at REAL Watersports, says this storm “is going to screw” the locals again after a dayslong power outage this summer cost sent 50,000 tourists packing and cost the Outer Banks millions in lost tourism income.

Hurricane Lee, meanwhile, was gradually strengthening far off in the open Atlantic, where it was expected to swing north and east again before tropical storm-force winds reach Bermuda.

Dare County Emergency Management Director Drew Pearson said officials believe 10,000 to 12,500 people were leaving Hatteras, while about 500 year-round residents could stay.

Hyde County officials said they had about 700 visitors when the evacuation was ordered at Ocracoke, which has about 1,000 permanent residents.

Some of the tourists who packed up and drove off Monday had enjoyed only one day of what was supposed to be a weeklong vacation.

On Hatteras, Jay Wrenn and his wife packed up for a five-hour drive back home to Burlington, North Carolina. They had arrived at their rented cottage in Rodanthe on Sunday with a week’s worth of groceries. By noon Monday, the macaroni salad they had made was in the trash.

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