The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday March 23rd

Hurricane Irene hits NC as a category 1 storm

National Park Service Ranger Jeff Goad views the destruction to N.C. Hwy 12 on the north edge of Rodanthe, North Carolina due to the storm surge from Hurricane Irene. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)
Buy Photos National Park Service Ranger Jeff Goad views the destruction to N.C. Hwy 12 on the north edge of Rodanthe, North Carolina due to the storm surge from Hurricane Irene. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

When Samantha Billings looked out the window of her Greenville apartment Saturday, she saw an uprooted pine tree on the roof of her neighbor’s apartment and a nearby pond overflowing — small reflections of the damage in the state caused by Hurricane Irene.

The hurricane unleashed its wrath Saturday morning, pounding North Carolina’s eastern coast with rain and violent wind when it made landfall just west of Cape Lookout.

Although students at UNC-CH were hardly affected, Billings, a senior at East Carolina University, said streets in her town were flooded and filled with tree branches, and many street lights were not working.

“Everything is chaotic because we are dealing with all of that,” she said. “I really didn’t think it was going to be this bad.

ECU’s campus received a lot of damage from the storm, she said.

“There are a bunch of trees down everywhere on campus,” she said, adding that parts of the roofs on campus buildings had been torn off from the wind.

ECU and Elizabeth City State University are closed today, according to the universities’ websites.

UNC-Wilmington received minimal damage from the hurricane and the campus will resume classes today, said Dana Fischetti, spokeswoman for the university.

“Our whole area was very fortunate, considering what it could have been,” she said.

A voluntary evacuation issued Friday at noon.

Keely Herron, a senior at UNC-W, stayed in Wilmington despite the university’s recommended evacuation.

She said when she woke up at about 7 a.m. Saturday it was windy, but there was very little rain.

“It was not nearly as intense as everyone thought it would be,” Herron said in an email.

Hurricane Irene was a category 1 storm with wind gusts up to 100 miles per hour when it made landfall at about 7:30 a.m., said Rachel Zouzias, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wilmington. The hurricane was originally projected to hit as a category 3 storm.

“It was getting some dry air sucked into the middle of it which was decreasing the intensity,” Zouzias said.

He said flooding, especially near the oceanfront, blocked many of the roads.

“When you have a storm like this you have to wait to see what happens, and the flooding is where most of the damage occurs,” he said.

Rainfall in the state ranged from four to 15 inches, said Casey Dail, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Morehead City.

Mather said it will take a few days to know Hurricane Irene’s full impact on the state.

“The more clear idea of damage, we will know in the aftermath of the storm,” he said.

Already six deaths caused by the hurricane have been reported in North Carolina, said Patty McQuillan, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

And as of Sunday morning, there were 525,000 power outages in the state, McQuillan said.

Duke Energy reported 4,700 power outages on Saturday in Chapel Hill, but by Sunday afternoon all power lost by the hurricane had been restored, said Sally Thelen, a spokeswoman for the company.

Chapel Hill faced winds of about 22 miles per hour on Saturday and received less than a quarter-inch of rain, said Kathleen Carroll, a metrologist for the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

But that was enough to do at least some damage.

Chrissy Luettich, a junior at UNC-CH, said at about 11 a.m. Saturday she and her roommates heard a loud sound outside their house on Church Street.

When they went outside an hour later, a large tree branch was laying in their yard, blocking their front porch. But there was no damage to the house.

“That is pretty much all of the excitement we got from the storm,” Luettich said.

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