Worst-case scenario has locals concerned

Published 12:34 am Friday, August 26, 2011

Dale Rahuba finishes tying off his boat Thursday at the Washington Yacht & Country Club east of Washington. Rahuba hopes the craft will weather whatever Hurricane Irene brings to Beaufort County. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

The local forecast regarding Hurricane Irene appeared to grow more serious Thursday afternoon as Irene’s track shifted to the west.

The eyewall, the strongest portion of the storm, was expected to move over the Pamlico Sound on Saturday. Due to Irene’s size, tropical-storm-force winds and a wind-driven water rise could arrive well in advance of the worst weather.

“Eastern North Carolina should prepare for significant impacts,” said Casey Dail, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Newport.

“Right now, I would say you can expect tropical-storm-force winds beginning around midnight Friday night,” Dail warned. “Then winds are going to peak Saturday afternoon, early evening. At least strong tropical-storm-force winds, possible hurricane-force winds.”

In Beaufort County, the strongest winds could be concentrated in the eastern half or third of the county, though hurricane-force gusts are possible countywide, Dail advised.

NWS also predicts a 5- to 7-foot rise in the Pamlico River as Irene tracks nearby.

“Be prepared for a major hurricane,” Dail said.

Washington’s hotels were filling up rapidly Thursday as evacuees and tourists fleeing Irene poured into town, according to staff at the Washington Visitor Center, located at the corner of Market Street and Stewart Parkway, just on the edge of an area that often floods during tropical storms and hurricanes.

Sandbags had been placed near the center’s front door by early afternoon Thursday.

The City of Washington’s Tourism Development Authority has occupied these offices for six or seven years, said Lynn Lewis, tourism director.

“We’ve not had water in the building” in that time, Lewis said.

The staffers acknowledged they’re not sure of the magnitude of flooding Irene could unleash on their corner.

Blount Rumley was preparing for gales at the N.C. Estuarium, a museum dedicated to eastern North Carolina’s inland waterways.

Rumley, Estuarium manager, said the staff would move outdoor furniture on the deck of the museum, and staff had pulled a pontoon boat out of the facility’s dock area.

“We just have to prepare for whatever comes our way,” he said.

Rumley has seen more than his share of hurricanes.

His first such storm was Hurricane Hazel, which raked over the Carolinas on Oct. 15, 1954.

“I swam in the house in Hazel in October ’54,” he said.

Rumley also spent part of Thursday fortifying his home in Washington Park against the expected wind and water.

Reggie Beamon is the store manager of Food Lion heading east out of Washington on U.S. Highway 264.

Food Lion and other Washington grocery stores were crammed with customers Wednesday and Thursday as shoppers supplemented their pantries with hurricane supplies.

“A lot of general items like bread, milk, eggs —flying out of here,” Beamon said when asked what people were buying.

Batteries were also hot items, he added.

The store was well-stocked with staples, and should remain stocked through Irene’s visit, Beamon said.

“We’ve got trucks coming,” he said.

Meanwhile, area schools, hospitals and other entities were preparing for Irene’s arrival.

Pungo District Hospital plans to temporarily cease operations at 5 p.m. today.

Beaufort County’s public schools will close three hours early today.