MIAMI (AP) — Hundreds of visitors have abandoned their vacation plans and left North Carolina’s Outer Banks ahead of Hurricane Maria as it moves northward in the Atlantic, churning up surf and bringing the possibility of flooding.
The hurricane that battered the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico last week has weakened slightly with maximum sustained winds Tuesday morning near 75 mph (120 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria is expected to keep gradually weakening and is forecast to become a tropical storm Tuesday night or Wednesday.
In North Carolina, more than 200 visitors already have left Hyde County’s Ocracoke Island amid a mandatory evacuation order imposed early Monday on that fragile barrier island jutting into the Atlantic. Authorities warned that high winds and flooding were possible threats as Maria passed well offshore. Neighboring Dare County also ordered an evacuation of visitors from neighboring Hatteras Island starting at midday. Schools in the county were closed Tuesday.
Tourists packed up and drove off Monday — some after only one day of what was supposed to be a weeklong vacation.
On Hatteras, Jay Wrenn and his wife packed up their car for the 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.
Meanwhile, business owners braced for what they said would be yet another financial hit this season. A construction accident at the peak of tourist season in late July cut power to Ocracoke and Hatteras for several days, resulting in the evacuation of an estimated 50,000 tourists. Businesses lost millions of dollars.
The storm was centered about 210 miles (340 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, Tuesday morning and was moving north at 7 mph (11 kph). A tropical storm warning was in effect for a swath of the North Carolina coast from Bogue Inlet to the Virginia border.
Maria hit Puerto Rico as a major Category 4 hurricane last week and claimed dozens of lives in its rampage across the Caribbean.