OCRACOKE, N.C. – Thousands of tourists stranded on this barrier island with no electricity and running water were told Wednesday to evacuate to give residents a chance to make repairs and clean up after the glancing blow struck by Hurricane Alex (search) and its 100 mph wind.
Alex was stronger than expected when it grazed North Carolina's Outer Banks (search) on Tuesday, blacking out thousands of customers and sending trash bins and debris floating along flooded roads. Ocracoke Island (search), south of Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks chain of low-lying barrier islands, bore the brunt of Alex's rain and heavy wind.
"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."
State officials estimated Wednesday that beginning Thursday, 6,000 to 8,000 tourists will be evacuated from the island, which is accessible only by ferry. However, county officials put the number at 4,000 to 4,500. The island has about 800 full-time residents.
"We hate to evacuate anybody on their vacation," Gov. Mike Easley (search) said Wednesday during a tour of the barrier islands hit hardest by the 100-mph storm. "But at the same time, you can't just let people stay in what we know are unsafe conditions."
About 300 cars belonging to tourists were damaged by flooding and do not work.
No injuries were reported, but power remained out Wednesday. A generator provided electricity to half the island at a time, switching off every two hours.
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. "I'm not sure I want to go through another one," he said.
Some communities on the islands and the mainland were still recovering from last year's devastating direct strike by Hurricane Isabel. That storm made landfall Sept. 18, 2003, damaging more than 53,000 homes.
Easley said officials feel fortunate that Alex didn't bring more damage.
"We bounce back, we fix them and we go forward again," Easley said. "That's part of being in the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic,' you're going to get storms."
By 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Alex was centered about 980 miles southwest of Cape Race, Newfoundland, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, and was moving toward the east-northeast about 18 mph.