Officials urged North Carolina to evacuate

Hurricane Ophelia edged toward North Carolina early Wednesday, but many in the storm's path shrugged at the threat of flooding rain and wind even as officials urged them to evacuate.

The National Hurricane Center upgraded the storm's status from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday, saying maximum sustained winds had reached 75 mph (121 kph), with higher gusts. Further strengthening was possible.

"We're just having a grand time," said Diane Komorowski, a tourist from Philadelphia, as she walked through the choppy surf on the Outer Banks with her husband.

Still, others were taking caution.

At Wrightsville Beach, the Scotchman convenience store opened for business early Wednesday, although the windows were boarded up, according to the AP.

"The company told me to keep the store open as long as I could because the people are going to need supplies," store manager Dennis Uncapher said.

At 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), Ophelia was centered about 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of Wilmington and about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east-northeast of Charleston, South Carolina, and was moving north at 5 mph (8 kph). The storm's effects were already being felt as heavy rains fell on the coast near the border of the Carolinas.

A hurricane warning extended about 275 miles (440 kilometers) from the South Santee River in South Carolina to Oregon Inlet at Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.

Early Wednesday, a bridge in North Carolina's New Hanover County was closed because of wind with gusts more than 40 mph (64 kph). County spokesman David Paynter said the latest forecasts suggested that hurricane-force winds would only scrape the county's coast because the center of the storm would pass 30 miles to 40 miles (50 kilometers to 65 kilometers) offshore.

State and local officials, determined not to be caught off-guard after Katrina, blanketed the coast with a mix of voluntary and mandatory evacuations, closing schools and opening shelters. Nearly 100 people had checked into a shelter in an elementary school near downtown Wilmington on Tuesday night.

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