MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. – Hurricane Ophelia (search) drew closer to the coast of central North Carolina Wednesday, where forecasters expect it to make landfall sometime during the night.
The storm had sustained winds of 85 miles per hour during the day, with higher gusts in some areas. According to the National Hurricane Center, at 7 p.m. EDT the eye of the hurricane was located about 35 miles southwest of Cape Lookout, N.C.
Hurricane-force winds have been measured to extend up to 50 miles from the center of the storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending up to 140 miles from the center.
The storm has already washed away a barrier island street and caused power outages.
According to one television news network, WTVD-TV, a section of the fishing pier at the Sheraton Hotel in Atlantic Beach has broken off.
Ophelia will produce storm-surge heights of five to seven feet above normal tide levels, with a surge of 9 to 11 feet possible at the heads of bays and rivers, the National Hurricane Center said.
Between four and eight inches of rain is expected over portions of Eastern North Carolina over the next 24 hours, with a maximum total of 15 inches of rain possible.
Heavy rains have already soaked the region, making threats of severe flooding a concern.
The storm is moving northeast at nearly seven miles per hour. A hurricane warning is in effect for all of the North Carolina coast as well as Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency had 250 workers on the ground. A 50-member National Guard unit has been dispatched to the Wilmington, N.C., area and about 475 state troopers were ready to assist with storm recovery.
"If you have not heeded the warning before, let me be clear right now: Ophelia is a dangerous storm," Gov. Mike Easley (search) warned from Raleigh.
Sixty shelters are open and the state has enough food and water for 10,000 people for two days, Easley said.
On the Outer Banks, officials warned that Ophelia could bring 11 hours of hurricane-force winds to exposed Hatteras Island.
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny but windy on the Outer Banks, where stormy weather is a way of life.
Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which made a head-on charge at the Gulf Coast two weeks ago, Ophelia had slowly meandered and waxed and waned in strength since forming off the Florida coast last week, making it hard for some to take the storm seriously.
"It's an island. The water will come over, it'll go out, and we'll do it all over again," Tiffany Bigham, 27, said after she finished boarding up her living room windows. Bigham, a lifelong resident of Hatteras Island, said she and all the other locals she knows were planning to stay put, despite an order that everyone evacuate the island.
However, the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast prompted others to take Ophelia more seriously.
"We got such a dose of it on TV, it's almost impossible not to be concerned," said Roger Kehoe, 68, of Yardley, Pa., one of the visitors who left a campground at Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Rain had started falling Tuesday in the state's southeast corner, and by Wednesday morning Brunswick County had measured 6.5 inches.
A 50-foot section of street was washed away by heavy surf at Brunswick County's Ocean Isle Beach, about 100 miles northwest of the storm's center, and other streets were under water, emergency officials said. A message at the police department said the island's bridge to the mainland was closed.
Some 34,000 homes and business were without power in eastern North Carolina, including the entire barrier island community of Kure Beach — population 1,700 — south of Wilmington, Progress Energy reported.
Northeast of Wilmington, Onslow County reported some docks underwater near the New River Inlet and 215 people in shelters.
Along the exposed Outer Banks, everyone was ordered to evacuate Hatteras Island, visitors had been ordered off Ocracoke Island and the National Park Service closed the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills. Schools were closed and nearly 100 people had checked into a shelter in an elementary school in Wilmington.
Bruce McIlvaine of Logan Township, N.J., was among those who cleared out Tuesday, packing to leave Hatteras Island before his vacation ended.
"I don't really want to mess with it," he said. "You're on a spit of land a dozen miles into the ocean."
A surfer was missing along the South Carolina coast, with the search suspended because of rough seas.
Ophelia is the 15th named storm and seventh hurricane in this year's busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.