People ignore Hurricane Opelia threat as it gets stronger

Hurricane Ophelia picked up strength as it closed in on North Carolina on Wednesday, but many in the storm's path had shrugged off the threat of wind and flooding rain and ignored pleas to evacuate.

The storm had sustained wind of 80 mph (130 kph) Wednesday morning, up from 75 mph (120 kph) a few hours earlier, the National Hurricane Center said. A hurricane warning was in effect from about Georgetown, South Carolina, to Oregon Inlet in North Carolina's Outer Banks, about 275 miles (440 kilometers), and a tropical storm warning extended from Oregon Inlet to the Virginia line, the AP reports.

Heavy rain was falling along the coast.

Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which made a head-on charge at the Gulf Coast two weeks ago, Ophelia had slowly meandered since forming off the Florida coast last week, making it hard for some to take the storm seriously. "We're just having a grand time," said Diane Komorowski of Philadelphia, as she walked through the choppy surf on the Outer Banks with her husband. "They keep saying, 'It's coming,', yet every day, it's great here."

However, the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast prompted others to take Ophelia seriously.

"We got such a dose of it on TV, it's almost impossible not to be concerned," said Roger Kehoe, 68, of Yardley, Pennsylvania, one of the visitors who left a campground at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), Ophelia was centered about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Wilmington, North Carolina, and about 110 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks. Slight strengthening was possible.

Ophelia was moving at 6 mph (9.6 kilometers) toward the north-northeast. It was expected to gradually turn toward the northeast and pick up a little speed by late Wednesday, with the center making landfall close to the Outer Banks on Thursday, the hurricane center said.

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