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Boston Weather: 54.0°F | Fog

Bonnie Returns to Hurricane Status, Heads North into Sea

By Sue Anne Pressley
The Washington Post
JACKSONVILLE, N.C.

Bonnie spun back into a hurricane Thursday night as it headed into the Atlantic after whipping Virginia's Tidewater region with fierce winds that toppled trees and left more than 100,000 people without electricity in an unexpectedly strong farewell punch.

But Bonnie apparently spared North Carolina's coast the extensive damage authorities had feared. It left disappointed vacationers, fallen trees, scattered flooding - and a lot of relief - in its wake.

Virginia officials too had hoped for a sense of relief but were surprised by Bonnie's ferocity Thursday night. Bonnie was downgraded to a tropical storm as it drifted over North Carolina, but Thursday night its winds reached 75 mph - hurricane speed - as it moved off the coast.

Warnings were posted from Cape Lookout, N.C., to Watch Hill, R.I., and a tropical storm watch extended north to Plymouth, Mass., including sections of the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River. Forecasters said Bonnie's hurricane force winds should remain at sea but that storm surge still threatened southeastern Virginia.

The lingering storm dumped as much as 14 inches of rain on some North Carolina coastal communities, flooding waterways and washing out roads. Shingles and siding were ripped from homes, and piers were damaged by winds estimated at 115 mph as they moved ashore on Cape Fear Wednesday, howling at a decreasing pitch through the night during their slow drift north. At one point, more than 1 million people were out of power because of lines torn down by the Category 3 storm.

The hurricane, with gusts still reaching 100 mph, shook the trees in Morehead City like feather dusters as morning broke. By late morning, however, as the winds wound down and moved on, the first motorists ventured through sheets of rain onto Route 24, dodging tree limbs and debris. By afternoon, worried residents in New Bern and Wilmington left motels and shelters and returned to check for damage to their homes.

At day's end, the sky was still dark and menacing even though the worst of the storm had passed. But in early assessments, officials said, Bonnie did not seem so bad overall - not nearly as bad as Hurricane Fran two years ago, which also packed 115-mph winds, but left $5.2 billion of damage and 24 people dead. Hurricane Bertha, two months earlier in July 1996, caused nine deaths.