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Hurricane Warnings Declared

By Sharon LaFraniere
The Washington Post

Hurricane Emily moved steadily closer to the East Coast Sunday, and federal forecasters issued a hurricane watch for a 460-mile stretch of coastline from near Charleston, S.C., northeast to the Maryland-Delaware border.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said the storm appeared most likely to hit North Carolina Tuesday morning near Cape Hatteras and Morehead City. But Jerry Jarrell, the center's deputy director, said Emily easily could choose several other paths, including a northward route away from land.

Jarrell said forecasters will probably issue a hurricane warning Monday morning, predicting hurricane-force winds for the affected area within 24 hours. Sunday night, Hyde County officials ordered 2,500 people, mostly vacationers, to evacuate North Carolina's Ocracoke Island. A 2-hour ferry ride is the only way to get from that island to the mainland.

Officials for Dare County, which takes in most of the Outer Banks, warned residents and vacationers to prepare for an evacuation order Monday morning.

Emily does not have nearly the force of either Hurricane Hugo, which caused 27 deaths in Charleston in 1989, or Hurricane Andrew, which a year ago became the nation's most costly natural disaster. Meteorologists predict Emily's winds will be between 96 and 110 mph when the storm makes landfall. Andrew reportedly had sustained winds of 145 mph with 175 mph gusts. Hugo's winds hit 135 mph.

Still, with the memory of both those storms fresh, few hurricane veterans Sunday were underestimating Emily's potential danger. If there is one thing unique about Emily, it may be the respect coastal residents and vacationers are giving it.

"Especially with the scare of Hurricane Andrew, everyone has their eyes open this year," said Debbie Reed, an emergency management aide for New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, N.C.

On the Outer Banks, there was a noticeable lack of bluster about the storm. Some vacationers, perhaps anxious to avoid the traffic jams of a forced evacuation, packed up their beach chairs and hit the road. "It's not a big panic to leave, but there are people canceling their reservations and cutting short their vacations," said Russell Chaplain, owner of the Castaways Ocean Front Inn in Avon on Hatteras Island.

Should anyone forget, a line four feet up the lobby walls of Ocracoke's 92-year-old Island Inn marks Hurricane Gloria's tremendous surge of water in 1976. Before the evacuation order, Island Inn manager Claudia Touhey said, "Most people are not really worried about Emily." But she added: "We're not stupid about it; we're not going to wait for a Hurricane Andrew to come through."

North Carolina emergency officials said their biggest concerns were the population centers of Wilmington and Morehead City and the barrier islands, linked only by ferries or two-lane bridges to the mainland.

At 5 p.m. Sunday, Emily was about 420 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, generating thunderstorms 200 miles from its eye. Federal forecasters said they expected it to gain strength Monday and to turn westward, steered by a high-pressure ridge to the north.