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Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Fair

Residents Flee as Hurricane Bonnie Lashes North Carolina

By Sue Anne Pressley
The Washington Post

Hurricane Bonnie marched across the North Carolina coast with destructive fury Wednesday, moving slowly inland with 115-mph winds and lashing rains, downing trees and power lines and threatening residents with a two-day assault.

The long-awaited hurricane hit the shore at Cape Fear and, slowing its forward motion markedly, passed through Wilmington and on toward Jacksonville another 60 miles up the coast. Howling winds also pummeled other coastal communities, including this vacation town of 7,500, as the storm powered its way in a northeasterly arc.

The Wilmington area turned into a disaster zone, although no serious injuries were reported in the first hours. Water pushed up by the winds flooded highways. Uprooted trees lay across roads and fallen electrical lines crackled and sizzled. Rain fell in almost horizontal sheets, and the few people who were out looked as if they were about to blow away, bracing themselves against vehicles as their clothes billowed around them.

With power out in thousands of homes, authorities imposed nightlong curfews in Wilmington, Morehead City and as far inland as Greenville, where flooding was reported. As the night progressed, gusts of 95 mph were recorded in Jacksonville, several tornadoes were reported to have touched down and the dunes at Topsail Beach, midway between Wilmington and Jacksonville, suffered extensive damage from the wind and pounding surf.

Specialists predicted Bonnie will continue its swath from Cape Fear near the southern end of the state to Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks, continuing toward the Virginia border, then perhaps barreling out to sea - but only late Thursday. The long hang time raised chances of extensive damage from high tides, flooding and rain, they warned. Rainfall levels of as much as 20 inches were expected up and down the coast, storm surges of 9 to 10 feet threatened water damage, and other twisters spinning off the storm were possible in eastern North Carolina and extreme southeastern Virginia.

Residents of Virginia's Tidewater region and, to a lesser degree, Maryland's Eastern Shore braced for the rains that moved in front of Bonnie. Officials in southeastern Virginia renewed recommendations that low-lying coastal areas susceptible to flooding be evacuated. As Carolinians did before them, Tidewater homeowners nailed plywood over exposed windows, while grocery stores did a brisk business in batteries and food supplies.

Nearly half a million residents and vacationers from 17 North Carolina coastal counties were evacuated, according to state emergency management officials, leaving low-lying areas practically deserted. Another 200,000 were ordered to leave Tuesday.