NC Highway 12 closed at Oregon Inlet

Officials in Dare County said Sunday morning that NC Highway 12 was closed to all traffic at Oregon Inlet Bridge due to sand and water over the road.

Sandy's slow pace could soak the North Carolina coast. Wrightsville Beach and surrounding areas are already feeling the storm's impact.

Those who have observed storms on the coast don't expect Sandy to rank up there with the worst.

Rick Hoppe grew up on the Outer Banks and now lives at Carolina Beach where the surf is already very rough, but Hoppe has taken only a few precautions.

"I pulled our boat out of the water, cleaned up the yard, battened down hatches," said Hoppe.

Hoppe said Sandy is probably the latest storm he's ever seen in the hurricane season.

And that's why he and so many others are perplexed by the cool rain and wind, which is a dramatic contrast to the heat and humidity of most tropical storms and hurricanes.

But the old timers know that even a glancing blow here could still mean severe erosion.

That would be bad here but an hour farther north and it could be disastrous.

At the northern end of North Topsail Beach, it's expected the storm could topple some homes at the inlet. One of them belongs to Cinda Sullivan.

"We had a high tide this morning early and a lot of damage has happened to all the houses around here," said Sullivan. "I've got a cave-in of concrete under this house and soon to have some more because it's cracked. And I've got two more tides to go through before the eye passes this area."

Homeowners are hoping to hang on for a couple of more weeks before a beach renourishment project begins, but it will be close.

Taking no chances, Gov. Beverly Perdue issued a state of emergency for 40 counties in eastern North Carolina. They are Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Dare, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Hyde, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Tyrrell, Washington, Wayne and Wilson counties.

A Flood Watch was up for many counties and the entire coast was under a Tropical Storm Warning.

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In Raleigh, emergency officials are coordinating the statewide response to Hurricane Sandy. Dozens of them are meeting at the State Emergency Management Center.

The National Guard is also on alert.

FEMA and experts on everything from telecommunications, infrastructure, and disaster response are coming together for a dangerous weather system.

"People should take what action is necessary to prepare," said Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell. "Get ready, then stay home and stay out of the way. So if you have some essential needs, now is a good time to go to the grocery store. Resources are being mobilized across the state."

Traffic cameras monitor road conditions, and dispatchers are standing by, prepared to deal with the storms worst affects on the Outer Banks.

Officials expect Sandy to affect the state through Tuesday. In the Triangle, the outer bands of the storm will bring as much as a half inch of rain in the greater Raleigh area. East of the I-95 corridor could get as much as two inches. Winds will be gusty and we could see sustained winds as high as 15-20 mph.

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ABC11 meteorologist Steve Stewart said while the storm will pass North Carolina well offshore, it will still bring significant rain, wind, and heavy seas.

» Click here for the interactive hurricane tracker «

Early rain and winds arrived Friday on the Outer Banks, and began to pick up Saturday morning. For the coast, the main flooding threat will be on the southern end of the Pamlico Sound and east facing beaches along the Outer Banks on Sunday. Some coastal areas could get as much as 8-9 inches. Local emergency management officials said heavy surf and rip currents were likely. They also warned residents that portions of Highway 12 - and other areas prone to flooding - could be inundated.

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State transportation officials suspended all ferry service to Ocracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Saturday, leaving hundreds of residents and guests no way to reach higher ground as Hurricane Sandy threatened the coast with heavy winds and rain.

Also, more than a dozen people were stranded on an isolated barrier island with no way to get off after private ferry service was halted.

Hyde County manager Mazie Smith said in a statement that unsafe travel conditions and flooding on N.C. 12 - the main artery for traffic on the Outer Banks - forced the county to suspend emergency ground transportation. Residents were told to take additional precautions when the storm got close.

"Our biggest concern obviously is the length of time the storm may sit on our coastline and how well the temporary bridge on Hatteras Island will hold up," Smith said.

The N.C. Department of Transportation suspended ferry service to Ocracoke Island, leaving residents and visitors without access to the mainland or to Hatteras Island, which is about 50 miles south of Nags Head.

The route from the south end of Hatteras Island was suspended due to high water covering N.C. 12. The Cedar Island-Ocracoke run was also suspended, and the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke ferry made its last run at 4 p.m.

Other ferries on the coast halted service as conditions got worse.

Hyde County was one of four counties to declare states of emergency ahead of the storm. Gov. Beverly Perdue on Friday declared a state of emergency for 40 counties east of Interstate 95.

Sandy is expected to approach the Mid-Atlantic states late Monday. Light rain in the morning turned into steady rains whipped by gusting winds Saturday evening.

South of Ocracoke, a group of people was forced to wait out the storm on Portsmouth Island, a former fishing village that is now uninhabited and accessible only by private ferry.

"We tried to get off the island and the ferry service shut down on us," said Bill Rowley, 49, of Rocky Mount, N.C., adding that there were about 20 people on the island.

Rowley said he could see 15-foot seas breaking over the island's dunes, enough to bring water to the island's interior.

"We'll be inundated and it'll probably be worse tomorrow," he said.

Rowley said the U.S. Coast Guard was to bring supplies to the people riding out the storm, adding that the group is making the best of their situation.

"Everybody here that I've talked to, tomorrow night, we're having a fish fry," Rowley said.

"What are you going to do, cry about it? You can't. It's all good," he said.

At least one person shared Rowley's sentiment

"We might not get off here until Tuesday or Wednesday, which doesn't hurt my feelings that much because the fishing's going to be really good after this storm," said Warren Ellis, 44, of Amissville, Va. "It's always good after a storm."

Ellis was stranded because conditions prevented the ferry from carrying him inland. While he decided to stay in his 10-foot camper, his 73-year-old father took his larger camper off Portsmouth Island and retreated to the Coast Guard station at Cape Hatteras.

"This is my first taste of this," said Keith Paquin, 51, of Burton, Ohio, as he, Steven Ellis and his son Andrew disassembled the few fishing rod-and-reel sets they hoped might still land fish. "We're going far enough north that we can't get trapped."

Todd Butler, 44, rushed down from his home in Virginia Beach, Va., to tie down his 48-foot charter fishing boat at its dock in Hatteras. That done, he was returning home on Saturday.

"I was talking to some old fishermen this morning," he said. "I don't think it's going to be that bad." But better to take precautions and secure a boat too big to pull out of the water.

Retirees Larry, 72, and Jean Collier, 71, of Brantford, Ontario, were leaving their beachfront hotel in Kill Devil Hills and trying to plot their coming days of returning home, knowing they risked driving into a developing superstorm as they headed north through Pennsylvania.

"I'll try to split (the trip) right down the middle, not too close to Washington, not too far west," Larry Collier said. "The storm has kind of put a wrench in it."

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