Outer Banks visitors evacuate as Maria churns northward

KITTY HAWK, N.C. (WAVY/AP) — Mandatory evacuations, closures and tropical storm advisories are being issued in the Outer Banks as the region braces for impact from Hurricane Maria.

More than 200 visitors left Hyde County’s Ocracoke Island amid a mandatory evacuation order imposed early Monday on that fragile barrier island jutting into the Atlantic. Authorities warn that high winds and flooding are possible threats as Maria passes well offshore. Neighboring Dare County also ordered an evacuation of visitors from neighboring Hatteras Island starting at midday on Monday.

A storm surge watch is in effect for Cape Lookout to Duck. Large swells are already affecting much of the east coast.

Map showing evacuation orders in Dare County, N.C. (Photo provided by Dare County Emergency Mgmt.)

“The waves start picking up from the southeast, we start getting a southeast swell so you know something is on its way,” Outer Banks Fishing Pier owner Garry Oliver said.

Monday, waves and rip currents crashed on the pier’s pilings.

“That’s what you worry about if you’ve got a fishing pier,” Oliver said. “12 foot seas for 24 hours is not good.”

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami has issued a tropical storm warning from Cape Lookout north up the coast to the Virginia line. A tropical storm watch also was in effect for other areas.

Tourists packed up and drove off — some after only one day of what was supposed to be a weeklong vacation. Business owners braced for what they said would be yet another financial hit this season.

The storm surge will likely lead to ocean overwash along flood-prone North Carolina Highway 12. Dare County Emergency Management advises drivers to stay off Highway 12 during high tide.

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WAVY reporter Lex Gray reports Kitty Hawk was seeing rough surf and strong winds Monday, before Maria arrived offshore. Red flags were in place in Nags Head on Sunday. Stay out of the water. These conditions are dangerous even for the most experienced swimmers.

The winds had picked up Monday morning, as Lex noted in a Facebook live update.

Impacts from the storm could include tropical storm force winds and storm surge along the Outer Banks coast.

Hyde County said Sunday all reservations would be canceled and all tolls would be waived for ferries leaving Ocracoke and traveling to Cedar Island or Swan Quarter.

The Ocracoke Campground closed at noon Sunday due to the path of the storm.

“We encourage all Ocracoke visitors to leave as soon as possible Monday,” said Ferry Division Director Harold Thomas. “We also encourage visitors to leave via Swan Quarter or Cedar Island if at all possible to avoid potential issues on N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island.”

This Sept. 25, 2017 photo shows the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Maria. (WAVY Photo).

Cape Hatteras National Seashore decided to temporarily suspend visitor services and close facilities on Monday, the National Park Service says.

The Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, and Frisco campgrounds will be closing at noon, and will remain closed until further notice.

The park service says staff began closing off Seashore beach access ramps at 3 p.m. By 5 p.m., all Seashore facilities were closed.

Residents told 10 On Your Side they are not panicking, but are keeping a close eye on the storm.

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An active tropical season has impacted the region already in 2017, including a beach replenishment project for Kitty Hawk. Hurricane Jose passed offshore last week, and caused some flooding and overwash in portions of the Outer Banks.

“Certainly it’s inhibited what we’ve been waiting for for many, many years,” Kitty Hawk Mayor Gary Perry said Monday. Two of the towns in the three-town project have finished beach replenishment.

Perry added, “We still lack 4,300 feet, and (Maria) is going to put that on hold now until at least a week, depending upon what comes after.”

Back in Nags Head, Garry Oliver looked with concern over his fishing pier.

“We try to just keep them maintained and keep it strong and hope we get through the storm,” he said.

Dare County Offices Dare County offices on Hatteras Island will be closed on Tuesday, September 26. All county offices north of Oregon Inlet will be open for business. All Dare County Schools are closed Tuesday.

Dare County Public Works On Tuesday, September 26, Dare County Sanitation will operate on a regular schedule with collection for Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Manteo (outside), Wanchese, East Lake, Stumpy Point and Manns Harbor. Customers in these areas should bring in and secure their cans as soon as possible following service on Tuesday morning. There will be NO commercial trash collection on Hatteras Island on Wednesday, September 27. There will be NO commercial recycle pick up for the remainder of this week.

Dare County Parks and Recreation All Hatteras Island Parks and Recreation activities are cancelled through Wednesday, September 27.