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BONNIE HITS N. CAROLINA HURRICANE STARTS CRAWL UP THE CAROLINA COAST.

Byline: Allen G. Breed Associated Press

Taking one of history's busiest storm routes, Hurricane Bonnie blew ashore Wednesday and began a slow crawl up the Carolina coast with stinging rain and howling winds of more than 100 mph.

Forecasters said the storm could linger over North Carolina for a day or more and bring up to 20 inches of rain. Winds were 115 mph when Bonnie hit land but dropped to 105 mph after nightfall.

Arriving hours after a half-million people had fled inland, the storm swamped roads, knocked out power to at least 240,000 and peeled part of a roof from a hospital. There were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries.

There were preliminary reports that the storm created new inlets that cut two small barrier islands in half, authorities said.

Andrew Tawes was among the few who remained on North Carolina's Outer Banks as the storm hit, staying to look after his house and cabinet shop. His wife and two children fled the island to stay with relatives.

``I've got thousands of dollars in wood and materials in my shop right now,'' he said. ``I'm scared to death.''

The storm reached land at 2 p.m. EDT at Cape Fear, near the South Carolina state line. It slowed from 16 mph to 8 mph as it eased ashore before slowing further.

Six hours later, Bonnie had moved only about 20 miles to the north and was centered near Wrightsville Beach, just east of Wilmington. Four to 5 inches of rain already had fallen in the Wilmington area by midafternoon.

``I suspect it's going to be raining very heavy for a long period of time and as it winds down,'' said Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Bonnie was expected to reach Greenville, 100 miles north of Wilmington and much farther inland than earlier expected, by this afternoon.

``That means a slow, constant battering of the area from Wilmington to Greenville,'' state Public Safety Director Richard Moore said. ``Rainfall along the I-95 corridor could reach 2 to 3 inches an hour.''

High tide levels

The storm was expected eventually to veer to the northeast and move out to sea near the North Carolina-Virginia line, but possibly not until Friday - a day later than expected.

Officials said Bonnie could raise water levels in some areas by 9 to 11 feet. Tide levels 9 feet above normal were reported in some areas Wednesday afternoon.

``We're not talking about one burst of water, like a tidal wave,'' Moore said. ``We're talking about the water being backed up in our sounds by the winds for as long as the hurricane lingers.''

The Carolina coast has had countless hurricanes, including three in 1955 alone that killed more than 200 people, because it juts out into the Atlantic near the Gulf Stream, a route often followed by storms.

With its pace and vast, 400-mile breadth, Bonnie could inflict more damage than Fran, the last major hurricane to hit the North Carolina coast. Fran plowed ashore in September 1996 in the same area Bonnie hit, killing 24 people in North Carolina and 34 overall and causing $5.2 billion in damage.

Even as Bonnie slowly moved to the north, South Carolina Gov. David Beasley would not lift the entire evacuation orders he had issued a day earlier for two coastal areas. Parts of South Carolina were battered by storms throughout the day.

``Bonnie hasn't done what we expected she would do, but she hasn't done that for three days, so why should we expect that now? . . . I don't want people thinking that this storm is over,'' Beasley said. ``There is still potential for major rain, major flooding and major wind damage that we hope will not happen. But we can't be sure.''

Beasley did lift the mandatory evacuation order for part of southern Georgetown County.

Bonnie ripped a roof from a small community hospital in Brunswick County, north of Cape Fear. Plans to move the patients were on hold until storm conditions eased.

Bonnie moved over the Brunswick Nuclear Power plant, where reactors were shut down Tuesday.

Southport postmaster Marvin Watson regretted not getting off Oak Island before the only bridge closed Tuesday night.

``I'll tell you one thing - it's scary out there,'' he said as the wind pushed sheets of water across the island. ``If I had my choice right now, I'd be sitting over in Wilmington somewhere.

Few on streets

On Hatteras Island, most homes and businesses were closed and only a few people were on the streets.

Jodi Austin, who is accustomed to storms after living on Hatteras for seven years, defied the evacuation order. She said she planned to ``lay some candles out, get a good board game and sit around with my friends.''

More than 16,000 people were spending the night in 108 shelters scattered across 42 North Carolina counties.

West Carteret High School in Morehead City was converted into a shelter, with 200 people lodged there. Many brought sleeping bags, cots, blankets, radios, books and lanterns. Some of the refugees had met before.

``We met each other during a storm years ago,'' said Iris Salter, who was chatting with Edwin and Gertha Lewis of Harker's Island.

Forty-seven people watched the storm in the 100-plus-year-old lighthouse on Bald Head Island, where Cape Fear is located.

While Bonnie reached the coast, Hurricane Danielle was weakening over the Atlantic - 1,900 miles southeast of Miami - and moving toward the northwest at 21 mph with winds of 85 mph that were expected to strengthen. Forecasters said it was too early to tell whether Danielle would threaten the U.S. mainland.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO Huge waves caused by Hurricane Bonnie ripped away a section of pier Wednesday at Indian Beach, N.C.

Patrick Schneider/The Charlotte Observer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Aug 27, 1998
Words:971
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