Arthur Strengthens Along U.S. East Coast

Published 07/03 2014 12:31PM

Updated 07/03 2014 12:37PM

Satellite Image Courtesy of NOAA
Satellite Image Courtesy of NOAA

RODANTHE, N.C. (CBS NEWS) -- Hurricane Arthur gained strength in the Atlantic on Thursday and threatened to strike near the North Carolina coast on Independence Day, prompting thousands of vacationers and residents to leave parts of the state's popular but flood-prone Outer Banks.

Late Thursday morning, Arthur was about 260 miles southwest of Cape Hatteras and moving north around 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

According to CBS affiliate WRAL, New HanoverCounty and the City of Wilmington have declared a state of emergency effective 10 a.m. Thursday. The North Carolina ferry system is shutting down the Ocracoke-Hatteras route at 5p.m. Thursday.

Forecasters expect Arthur speed up to a Category 2 storm and pass over or near the Outer Banks - a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents - early Friday, bringing rain, heavy winds, storm surge and dangerous rip tides.

Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend. Gov. Pat McCrory warned people: "Don't put your stupid hat on," urging them to put safety before picnics, barbecues and pre-paid beach cottage vacations.

Arthur, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, prompted a hurricane warning for much of the North Carolina coast. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for coastal areas in South Carolina and Virginia. On the Outer Banks' Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was underway. Officials said ferry service would end at 5 p.m.

Before sunset Wednesday on Route 12, a long line of cars, trailers and recreational vehicles formed a steady stream of traffic. The road has been sliced apart twice in recent years as storms cut temporary channels from the ocean to the sound. N.C. 12 is easily blocked by sand and water.

Officials called the evacuation for Hatteras Island residents and visitors mandatory, but some residents were likely to stay, as in past storms.

The holiday weekend was not expected to be a complete loss on the Outer Banks. Forecasters said the storm would move through quickly with the worst of the weather near Cape Hatteras about dawn Friday. Then it was expected to clear.

If Arthur makes landfall in the U.S. on Friday, it would be the first hurricane to do so on July Fourth, according to National Hurricane Center research that goes back to the 1850s.

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