HURRICANE ALEX Officials ask tourists to evacuate island



North Carolina's Outer Banks islands were hit the hardest.
OCRACOKE, N.C. (AP) -- Emergency officials ordered thousands of tourists to leave Ocracoke Island and to stay away until damage from Hurricane Alex is repaired.
It was unclear how many tourists would be ferried out starting early today -- state officials estimated 6,000 to 8,000, while Hyde County put the number at 4,000 to 4,500.
About 300 cars belonging to tourists were damaged by flooding and are not running, said George Sullivan of the state Division of Emergency Management. Authorities planned to use school buses to help transport those people off the island.
"We hate to evacuate anybody on their vacation," Gov. Mike Easley said Wednesday during a tour of the barrier islands hit hardest by the storm. "But at the same time, you can't just let people stay in what we know are unsafe conditions."
Allowing for cleanup
Sullivan said keeping tourists on the island, which is only accessible by ferry, would hinder clean-up and recovery efforts by the approximately 800 full-time residents.
"You can't repair a cottage with a family living in it," he said. "We need to get them out so they can make repairs."
Ocracoke took the most severe damage as Alex dealt a glancing blow to the Outer Banks chain of low-lying barrier islands Tuesday afternoon. No injuries were reported, but 22 utility poles were pulled down. A generator provided electricity for half the island at a time, switching off every two hours, until repairs were made and power restored late Wednesday.
The storm also flooded several communities on Hatteras Island to the north, including Hatteras, Frisco and Buxton. Water from the Pamlico Sound washed across the slender islands and N.C. Highway 12, the only road connecting the Outer Banks to the mainland.
Tourist experience
Jim East of Richmond, Va., said Wednesday that he, his wife and 17-year-old son rode out the storm in a recreational vehicle at a campground in Rodanthe. It was East's first visit to the North Carolina coast in many years and his first hurricane.
"I'm not sure I want to go through another one," he said.
The storm strengthened in the last hours before it passed over the Outer Banks on its way out to sea. The eye -- where the National Hurricane Center said sustained winds reached nearly 100 mph -- just barely passed by Cape Hatteras.
The close call was a blessing for communities still recovering from last September's Hurricane Isabel, which hammered the region and damaged 53,000 homes. Isabel ripped a new inlet in the barrier islands and washed out a large section of N.C. 12.
At Howard's Pub, owner Ann Warner said Alex caused some flooding, but no structural damage. She said some tourists already had left the island, but her restaurant was seeing a steady flow of families Wednesday.

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