US braced for Fourth of July hurricane

Lightning strikes over the East River and the Empire State building in New York as  the storm nears. Picture: AFPLightning strikes over the East River and the Empire State building in New York as  the storm nears. Picture: AFP
Lightning strikes over the East River and the Empire State building in New York as the storm nears. Picture: AFP
THE US is bracing itself for one of the busiest travel weekends of the year – as the first hurricane of the season approaches.

Tropical Storm Arthur is expected to grow into a hurricane by today and is due to have the worst effect on popular getaway islands along North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season prompted a warning for a wide area of the North Carolina coast and spurred authorities to order a mandatory evacuation for visitors to the Outer Banks’ Hatteras Island yesterday morning.

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A voluntary evacuation was announced for the Outer Banks’ Ocracoke Island, which is accessible only by ferry.

Officials, hotel owners and would-be holidaymakers as far north as New England were also carefully watching forecasts. The storm was enough of a concern that officials in Boston decided to move the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert and fireworks show up by a day because of potential heavy rain on Friday night.

The Outer Banks will be especially vulnerable, forecasters said. As word of the mandatory evacuation on Hatteras Island spread, a steady stream of cars, trailers and recreational vehicles began rolling north on Highway 12, a two-lane road that is the only way to the mainland other than ferries to the south.

Home to the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the island is just a narrow spit of land.

One of the visitors who left yesterday was Gary Reinhardt, 63, of Sarasota in Florida.

“I’m worried about the road. It took way too long to get here,” he said, a reference to the two-and-a-half hours it took him and his wife Lori to get on to the island last Sunday in normal summer traffic, when no storms were in sight.

The Reinhardts said they were on holiday with 22 family members from California, Nebraska and Michigan and all of them had since left.

Other areas of the Outer Banks were taking a cautious, but still-optimistic approach. No evacuations had been ordered for areas north of Hatteras, including the popular town of Kill Devil Hills, which was the site of the Wright brothers’ first controlled, powered airplane flights in December 1903.

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Tourism officials expect about 250,000 people to visit the Outer Banks and stay in hotels and rental homes for the long holiday weekend.

“We want everybody to be safe and prepared, but we are not overly concerned at this point,” said Lee Nettles, the executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. He noted that forecasters were predicting the storm would move fast and be less severe than others in locals’ memories.

Stores saw runs on generators, lanterns and flashlights, but some workers were unconcerned by the weather.

“I’ve been through Irene. I went through Isabelle,” said Bill Motley, who works at Ace Hardware in Nags Head and has lived on the Outer Banks for 13 years. “I’m not even worried about this one. I’m more worried about my tomato plants. With the wind coming, if we get a 50mph gust, it will knock over my plants.”

Nancy Janitz, 60, of Jacksonville, North Carolina, said she was ready, and would “keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook”.

Even so, the governor, Pat McCrory, declared a state of emergency for 25 coastal and adjoining counties and advised residents and visitors alike to let caution be their guide.

“Don’t put your stupid hat on,” he said, as he urged surfers and swimmers not to enter the water.