Storm Ophelia forces Outer Banks chain to evacuate

More of the exposed Outer Banks chain of island was ordered evacuated Tuesday as Tropical Storm Ophelia drifted closer to the coast of the Carolinas with pounding surf and a threat of heavy rain.

Part of the storm's outermost bands neared the shoreline as Ophelia bobbed and weaved slowly to the north-northwest, with its top sustained wind staying at about 70 mph.

A hurricane warning was in effect Tuesday from Georgetown, S.C., to North Carolina's Cape Lookout, east of Morehead City, the National Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm warning extended north along the Outer Banks from Cape Lookout to Oregon Inlet, Guardian informs.

With many people on edge because of Hurricane Katrina, all residents and visitors were ordered to evacuate Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks on Tuesday, visitors already had been ordered off Ocracoke Island and 300 National Guard troops were on duty along the coast. Schools in five coastal counties were closed Tuesday and Dare County planned to send students home at noon. Classes were canceled at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

With Ophelia's path unpredictable, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner had declared an emergency Monday, putting all state agencies to work preparing for the storm. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford called for a voluntary evacuation of oceanfront and riverside areas in the northeastern part of his state.

“This is a serious storm that's got the potential to do a lot of damage and put lives in jeopardy if we don't take it seriously,” Sanford was quoted as saying by the AP.

The National Park Service closed most of its property on the Outer Banks, including the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

Ophelia dropped slightly in strength Monday from a hurricane to a tropical storm, but it could regain hurricane strength over the next day or so, forecasters said.

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