SOUTHPORT, N.C. (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes and dumped rain during an inland march up the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday after making landfall as a hurricane along the North Carolina coast, where it piled boats against the docks and caused floods and fires that displaced dozens of people.
Royce Potter, a fifth-generation seafood purveyor and owner of Potter’s Seafood in Southport, said he rode out the storm on a boat docked near his business after he got the impression from forecasters that his area would be spared.
“They got this wrong,” he said, visibly shaken. “I’ve ridden storms out here for years.”
Instead, the storm surge and wind gusts left dozens of boats piled up against the docks, and many decks facing out on the water were smashed. People were out Tuesday morning raking debris or picking it up with their hands and dropping it in trash cans.
The hurricane's eye moved over land near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, just after 11 p.m. on Monday with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (136 km/h), and its top winds dropped to 70 miles per hour (117 km/h) by early Tuesday. But forecasters said hurricane-force gusts were likely in the Chesapeake Bay region, and tropical storm conditions were expected across New England Tuesday night.
“We don’t think there is going to be a whole lot of weakening, we still think there’s going to be very strong and gusty winds that will affect much of the mid-atlantic and the Northeast over the next day or two,” Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, told The Associated Press.
At least two tornadoes were confirmed by the national weather service, near Kilmarnock, Virginia, and Vienna, Maryland. As the heavy rains and wind felled trees, power outages spread Tuesday. More than 650,000 customers lost electricity, most of them in North Carolina and Virginia, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks utility reports.
Isaias (pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs) toggled between tropical storm and hurricane strength throughout its path to the U.S. coast, killing two people in the Caribbean and trashing the Bahamas before brushing past Florida.
Some coastal communities in North Carolina and Virginia woke to significant damage, mostly east and north of where the hurricane's eye struck land.
On North Carolina's Oak Island, deputies had to rescue five adults and three children after the storm hit, causing damage along the beachfront and knocking electricity and sewer facilities offline, authorities said.
The storm set off flooding and sparked five home fires in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, Mayor Debbie Smith told WECT-TV, and firefighters from Horry County, South Carolina crossed the state line to help out, their spokesman, Tony Casey, told The Associated Press.
Further up the coast, about 30 people were displaced by a fire at a condominium complex in Surf City, news outlets reported. It wasn't immediately clear if the fires were connected to the storm. No injuries have been reported.
And in Suffolk, Virginia, near the coast, multiple homes were damaged by falling trees, and city officials received reports of a possible tornado. A fire station downtown sustained damage including broken window. A photo posted by city officials showed a pile of bricks lying next to a damaged business.
Coastal shops and restaurants had closed early in the Carolinas, where power began to flicker at oceanfront hotels and even the most adventurous of beachgoers abandoned the sand Monday night. The National Hurricane Center warned oceanside home dwellers to brace for storm surge up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) and up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in spots.
“All those rains could produce flash flooding across portions of the eastern Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, and even in the northeast U.S.,” said Daniel Brown, senior hurricane specialist. A tropical storm warning extended all the way up to Maine, where flash flooding was possible in some areas on Wednesday.
The center was moving over southeastern Virginia before daybreak, on a path to remain near or along the coast of mid-Atlantic states and continue across the northeastern United States later into the evening. Strong winds and heavy rainfall were expected to spread northward along the mid-Atlantic coast Tuesday morning.
As the storm neared the shore, a gauge on a pier in Myrtle Beach recorded its third highest water level since it was set up in 1976. Only Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 pushed more salt water inland.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged those evacuating to turn to shelters as a last resort, citing coronavirus risks and the need to operate shelters at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing.
“Whether it’s labeled a tropical storm or a hurricane, you should take this storm seriously, and make sure your family is ready,” Cooper said.
Associated Press staffers Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, New Jersey; Jeffrey Collins and Michelle Liu in Columbia, South Carolina; Sarah Blake Morgan in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Shawn Marsh in Trenton, New Jersey contributed to this report.