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    Hurricane Ophelia approaches US
    September 11, 2005 - 3:55PM
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    www.theage.com.au

    Hurricane Ophelia inched toward the US East Coast, prompting forecasters to place parts of two Atlantic states on a hurricane watch and the governor of North Carolina to declare a state of emergency.

    Local officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for non-residents on the low-lying vacation island of Ocracoke on the North Carolina Outer Banks.

    The watch issued by the National Hurricane Centre in Miami cautioned millions of residents that fierce winds and other hurricane conditions were possible within 36 hours along America's south-eastern coast from the Savannah River in South Carolina to Cape Lookout in North Carolina.

    Sustained winds had been gauged as high as 128 kph within Ophelia, which was near latitude 31.8 north and longitude 76.2 west, or some 365 km east-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, at 5pm (0700 AEST), according to a hurricane centre advisory.

    "Ophelia has been meandering mainly toward the north near 2 mph (3 kph). Little motion is anticipated tonight or Sunday," forecasters in Miami said.
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    The forecasters, who said the hurricane watch may be extended further north, described Ophelia as a large category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale that was unlikely to strengthen significantly during the next 24 hours.

    More than 3000 tourists and 800 residents were on Ocracoke Island, which is reachable only by boat or plane, according to Hyde County Emergency Management coordinator Tony Spencer.

    "The evacuation is going orderly but a lot of folks don't understand the logistics of needing to evacuate early," Spencer said.

    No other North Carolina county was under an evacuation order, a spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Centre said.

    North Carolina Governor Mike Easley, in declaring a state of emergency for his state, said tropical storm force winds and rain were expected to be felt in North Carolina late tomorrow and would strengthen the following day to hurricane force winds.

    North Carolina officials were to hold a briefing later today to detail preparations for the storm.

    Ophelia, which has repeatedly weakened and regained strength, had parked off the coast of Florida for three days and lashed the state's Atlantic coast with squalls and beach-eating waves.

    There had been concern as Ophelia formed that it could threaten the US Gulf Coast, which is recovering from the August 29 strike by the much more powerful Hurricane Katrina.

    REUTERS
 
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