HURRICANE ALEX Worst of storm spares the coast

Alex grew to hurricane strength early Tuesday.
BUXTON, N.C. (AP) -- Hurricane Alex, stronger than expected but sparing the North Carolina coast a direct hit, brought plenty of wind, rain and flooding to the Outer Banks, cutting power to thousands and flooding Hatteras Island's only link to the mainland.
Now the communities of North Carolina's barrier islands must clean up after the storm brushed the coast Tuesday. Winds reached 100 mph, sending trash bins and other debris floating along a flooded Highway 12.
"It blew a whole lot harder than what people expected," said Ollie Jarvis, who owns Dillon's Corner, a souvenir and tackle shop. "Last week we weren't even thinking about it. It came up on us quick."
The storm's glancing blow was a blessing for some communities still recovering from last year's devastating Hurricane Isabel. That storm made landfall Sept. 18, 2003, damaging more than 53,000 homes.
Grew to hurricane
Alex grew to hurricane strength, 74 mph, early Tuesday; by midday the sustained wind around its eye had revved up to nearly 100 mph, with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center said.
However, the eye just barely passed by Cape Hatteras, leaving the east side of the hurricane -- where the strongest wind and heaviest rain are located -- out at sea. By this morning, Alex was about 280 miles northeast of Cape Hatteras with top wind speeds of about 90 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
No injuries had been reported by Tuesday evening, Gov. Mike Easley said in a prepared statement. The National Guard was called in to help along some parts of the coast and public ferry service between Ocracoke and Hatteras was canceled. Damage assessment teams were expected to begin work today on Hatteras Island.
State of emergency
Ocracoke Island was under a state of emergency Tuesday night with a curfew in place until dawn, a sheriff's department spokeswoman said.
Dorothy Toolan, a spokeswoman for Dare County, said the worst flooding -- in Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras -- was only temporary. "The majority of the water has receded and did so fairly quickly," she said.
Even so, many people encountered problems, from tricky travel conditions to flying debris that damaged property. Outside the Comfort Inn in Buxton the hotel manager looked outside as ice machines and trash containers floated down the road.
Behind the hotel, the wind had hurled a trampoline against a telephone pole. The trampoline remained stuck against the pole hours after the storm passed.
After returning from evacuating a woman from her flooding house, Matt Caviness and Erin Lopez of the U.S. Coast Guard had to abandon their truck on a flooded portion of highway.
At the peak of power outages a total of 10,000 customers were without electricity, including 6,800 customers on Hatteras Island and all 2,100 customers on Ocracoke Island.

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