RODANTHE, N.C. (AP) — Arthur strengthened to a hurricane early Thursday and threatened to give North Carolina a glancing blow on Independence Day, prompting thousands of vacationers and residents to leave parts of the state's popular but flood-prone Outer Banks.
Nichole Specht, 27, and Ryan Witman, 28, had pre-loaded their Honda CRV and left Hatteras Island at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, beating the expected traffic jam. The island was under a mandatory evacuation order for visitors and residents, with officials asking an estimated 35,000 people to leave through North Carolina Route 12, the only road on and off Hatteras.
Specht and Witman found the road wide open for their return home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Specht said her parents left their rental later, at 5 a.m., and also found clear sailing.
"We were just saying we were really, really lucky this year that the weather was so great, and then this," Specht said as she ended a two-week vacation that included scouting sites for the couple's wedding next year.
Forecasters expect Arthur to whip past the Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands — on Friday without making landfall, but Gov. Pat McCrory warned vacationers along the coast not to risk their safety by trying to salvage their picnics, barbecues and pre-paid beach cottage vacations.
"Don't put your stupid hat on," McCrory said.
The National Hurricane Center predicted Arthur would swipe the North Carolina coast early Friday with winds of up to 85 mph and then be off the coast of New England later in the day, eventually making landfall in Canada's maritime provinces as a tropical storm.
Outer Banks residents and out-of-town visitors who fail to evacuate ahead of the hurricane's expected arrival should prepare for possibly getting stuck for several days without food, water or power, National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart said Thursday.