Irene pummels Beaufort County

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene claimed the awning from the front of Salon 208 on Main Street in Washington. (WDN Photo/Ray McKeithan)

Hurricane Irene is pummeling Beaufort County with destructive winds and damaging flooding.

The worst of the storm is expected to batter Washington and surrounding areas from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. today, said Mick Reed, Washington’s police chief, citing National Weather Service projections.

“It looks like she’s a little bit ahead of schedule,” Reed said about 11:45 a.m. today.

“It’s about 50-50. We’re getting a lot of reports of flooding. We’re getting a lot of reports of wind damage,” Reed said when asked what types of damage city residents are dealing with as Irene pounds eastern North Carolina.

At 11 a.m., Irene, a Category 1 hurricane, was about 50 miles west of Cape Hatteras.

Storm surge is expected to raise water levels by as much as 5 feet to 9 feet in the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, according to the National Weather Service. Large, destructive and life-threatening waves are expected to accompany the storm surge.

Irene is expected to produce rainfall accumulations from 6 to 10 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches, NWS forecasts conveyed.

“Apparently it has taken off quite a bit of our roof because it is pouring water out of ceilings in the bathroom and dining room. I’m talking buckets,” said Kellie Harris Hopkins, the Beaufort County elections director who lives just outside Belhaven with her husband, Josh, and three children.

At around 11:45 a.m. today, her downstairs garage was flooded and the wind speed in her neighborhood was higher than at any point earlier today.

Josh Hopkins’ father lives next to the river in Pamlico Beach.

“He said this water’s as high as it’s ever been,” Hopkins said of her father-in-law’s report on what he’s seen today, including a doublewide that had been up on blocks being washed away.

“I think this going to be the worst one ever,” she said.

Hopkins said many raised houses in the Belhaven area will have water in them because of this storm.

Hopkins and her family live about a quarter of a mile from the Pungo River. “We can see the river, but we’re not on it,” she said.

“It looks like a mountainous river. … The water’s coming in so fast,” she said from her neighborhood just outside Belhaven.

“It’s running down the walls. It’s all in my kitchen cabinets,” she said of the rainwater coming into her house.

Elsewhere around Belhaven, large limbs are down.

Hopkins said she’s lived through hurricanes Fran, Floyd, Isabel and several tropical storms.

“I’ve been right here or right across the street through every one of them since the early ’90s, and this is the worst one we’ve had,” she said.

The Hopkinses’ house is made with reinforced cinderblock.

Pamlico Beach is reporting floodwaters 3 feet to 4 feet higher than flooding associated with Hurricane Isabel, she said.

“And it’s still coming in,” Hopkins related.

In the area where they raised her father-in-law’s house with cinderblock pilings and walled in between those pilings to make them solid, floodwaters washed away those walls closest to the river.

Her father-in-law was in the house when those walls were washed away.

Downtown Washington has suffered extensive, but mostly minor, wind damage. A metal awning has been ripped off a salon on Main Street. Numerous trees and large limbs have fallen in the historic district, tearing down power lines along the way.

The wall of a warehouse has collapsed on Third Street.

Some area residents are faring better than others as Irene passes.

In Washington Park, the Pamlico River had jumped its banks and crossed Riverside Drive. The bright spot was that electricity was still on in that area as of 11:30 a.m.

“Close to the opposite end (of the street), it was flooded up to the house,” said Washington Park resident Laura Darre. “We saw an orange kayak going by in the river with two people paddling. They were flying — going really fast.”

Darre reported broken branches and a couple trees down. One tree reportedly had fallen in the front yard of Jeff and Brenda Peacock, damaging their lamppost.

Back in Washington, a few bricks had fallen off the façade of one building on Main Street.

Two or three light bulbs had fallen out of their fixtures on the Wachovia building on Market Street.

What looked to be a utility poll had fallen at the corner of Water and Market streets.

Numerous trees and large limbs had been felled in the historic district, tearing down a couple of power lines along the way.

At least one sailboat appears to have grounded on the south side of the Pamlico River, across the river from Stewart Parkway.

Locally, flooded streets include portions of Third, Water, Market, Park Drive and others. A thorough tour of the city wasn’t possible, at least as of 11:50 a.m. Saturday.

Officials were still urging people to stay off the road until the worst of Irene has passed.

Power outages seemed to be widespread within Washington.