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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Hurricane drenches US coastline
A car drives through a flooded street in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, US
Officials fear the hurricane will bring heavy flooding and storms surges
Hurricane Ophelia has lashed the US North Carolina coast with torrential rain and strong winds, causing flooding and power outages.

The hurricane - which is Category One, the weakest in the scale - has left more than 100,000 people without power.

Meteorologists say it is moving slowly and might last for another 24 hours.

Ophelia, the season's seventh hurricane, is the first to hit the US since Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi on 29 August.

At 0300 GMT on Thursday, Hurricane Ophelia was centred about 20 miles (32km) south-southeast of Cape Lookout, North Carolina, and was moving north-east at 7 mph (11km/h).

Hurricane forecast map

The National Hurricane Center said parts of the Carolinas could see up to 15in (38cm) of rain, and warned of possible 11ft (3.35m) storm surges.

Ophelia is expected to skirt Cape Lookout early on Thursday then move slowly towards the Outer Banks - a chain of islands along the state's northern coast - before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Forecasters believe that the hurricane, which has sustained winds of 85mph (136km/h), could strengthen slightly, but do not expect it to cause structural damage.

Evacuations

More than 12in (30cm) of rain fell on Oak Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, in North Carolina, the National Weather Service in Raleigh said.

Hurricane warnings are now in effect all along the North Carolina coast to the Virginia border.

Hurricane Ophelia threatens the US coastline in North Carolina
Ophelia is expected to head out into the Atlantic by Friday

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for islands and beach towns in six coastal North Carolina counties on Tuesday, and many schools in North and South Carolina closed.

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley appealed to residents in flood-prone areas to leave their homes for safer ground.

"If you have not heeded the warning before, let me be clear right now: Ophelia is a dangerous storm," he said.

However, local media are reporting that many long-time coastal residents are refusing to leave.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent 250 workers to the affected areas, and National Guard teams were said to be primed to evacuate sick and elderly residents.


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