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Outer Banks Watching Sandy Off The Coast

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File photo of waves on a beach before Hurricane Sandy hits. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

File photo of waves on a beach before Hurricane Sandy hits. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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NAGS HEAD, N.C. (AP)— Movie theaters, fast-food restaurants, and grocery and big-box stores opened Sunday on North Carolina’s Outer Banks even as distant Hurricane Sandy lashed the coast with high winds and tides and continued to threaten the barrier islands.

Sandy was at Category 1 hurricane, packing 75 mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. As of 11 EDT Sunday, it was located 290 miles east of Cape Hatteras, N.C.

The state Department of Transportation said it closed the Herbert Bonner Bridge that carries N.C. Highway 12 over the Oregon Inlet because “inspectors determined that the bridge was unsafe for traffic,” according to a prepared statement. The problem involved a loose section of the bridge’s railing that conditions did not allow to be thoroughly checked, spokeswoman Amanda Perry said.

Further north, long sections of the barrier island beach road connecting Nags Head and Duck were covered in rain, sea water and sand. At the southern end of the Outer Banks, several homes and businesses on Ocracoke Island, accessible only by boat, were threatened by a flood of more than two feet, DOT officials said.

About five inches of rain fell at Hatteras Village during a 24-hour period ending at 2 p.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service reported. On the oceanfront, the state Department of Transportation reported sustained winds of 50 mph. The greatest impacts from the ocean were expected with high tide after sunrise Monday.

Winds shifting from the east to the northwest later Sunday could cause sound-front flooding of 3 to 5 feet. Winds of 30 mph or more were expected until Tuesday.

North Carolina officials said a state of emergency has been declared for 38 counties from the Interstate 95 corridor to the coast, while a flood watch covers counties east of Highway 17.

Meanwhile, forecasters have issued a winter storm advisory for heavy snow in the northeastern region of the Appalachian Mountains. It extends from Monday morning to 6 a.m. Wednesday. Snow accumulations of 4 to 8 inches are expected, with 8 to 12 inches predicted at higher elevations, state officials said.

On the Outer Banks, officials in the three counties did not call for evacuations, but urged motorists to stay off the roads during the storm, especially beach roads known to flood or to be covered by sand. Power companies reported scattered power outages.

State emergency management officials had not received reports of injuries or serious problems by Sunday afternoon, said Doug Hoell, the state’s emergency management director.

“So far, we’ve been fortunate as we have not had reports of severe damage from Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “But this is still a slow-moving, powerful storm that could impact North Carolina well into next week.”

The major concerns were rising tides and pounding waves on the ocean side, where many beachfront properties remained vulnerable, and also on the backside of the islands where authorities feared the hurricane’s winds could drive up water from the normally tranquil Pamlico Sound. Some areas of southern Hatteras Island were swamped by several inches of water and sand Sunday. Hurricane Irene last year caused 6 feet or more of water to rise from the sound into homes and sliced the only road to the mainland from the low-lying, 70-mile-long island.

N.C. Highway 12 was closed from south of the Oregon Inlet bridge to the Hatteras Island town of Rodanthe after it was inundated with salt water and sand, a common storm occurrence in that area. High tide coming just before nightfall was likely to push more water and sand onto the road, so the state DOT said it didn’t know when the road might reopen.

On Portsmouth Island, a former fishing village that is now uninhabited and accessible only by private ferry, the Coast Guard was unable to deliver supplies to a group of about 20 people forced to wait out the storm Saturday after private ferries quit plying the storm-tossed waters to the mainland..

“We know that they’re out there,” said Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. “We know that they’ve got some food and some provisions to get them through the storm. We’ll make an effort to get out there and get to them as soon as it’s safe to do so, but we just can’t do that right now.”

Coastal ferry operations were suspended late Saturday, but Sandy’s march northward meant the Southport-Fort Fisher route near the South Carolina border was able to resume normal operations Sunday.

DeWitt Quinn, 63, from the mainland town of Badin, was in the Outer Banks for his annual fishing trip when Sandy disrupted his plans. He spent all day Saturday fishing from shore and a boat as the storm built up. Quinn, who’d previously served with the Coast Guard, said he was planning to spend Sunday indoors with his buddies cleaning and preparing a two-foot-long fish caught Saturday.

“We’ve got cards. We’ve got computers. We’ve got food. We’re going to cook our brains out and eat very well,” Quinn said.

Terri and Troy Meester of Monument, Colo., had come to North Carolina on Thursday to visit their 24-year-old daughter Tiffany, who’d moved to Greenville earlier this year. Their tourist activities were cut short when the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which marks the spot in Kill Devil Hills of man’s first powered flight, closed early. They decided to stay in a beachfront hotel to experience hurricane-like conditions for the first time.

“We’re crazy. We had a choice. We didn’t have to come here, but we decided to stay,” Terri Meester said. “We decided to do an adventure.”

For local residents though, Sunday promised little more than another day indoors.

“It makes me have to do all my house work and all the stuff I should have done,” Manteo resident Jane Kauffman said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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