ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Tropical Storm Ophelia was downgraded to a post-tropical low Saturday evening but continues to pose a threat of coastal flooding and flash flooding in the Mid-Atlantic region, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Residents in parts of coastal North Carolina and Virginia experienced flooding Saturday after the storm made landfall near a barrier island in North Carolina, bringing rain, damaging winds and dangerous flooding.
It’s on Saturday at 11 p.m Center said Ophelia, reduced to a weak tropical storm form, was located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south-southwest of Richmond, Virginia, and about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 km/h) with higher gusts.
Flood warnings and coastal flood watches remained in effect for parts of the region, the center said.
“The center of Ophelia is expected to turn toward the north-northeast and northeast, moving across eastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula through Sunday,” the center said.
Areas from Virginia to New Jersey are expected to receive 2.5 to 7.6 centimeters (1 to 3 inches) of rain, and in some places up to 12.7 centimeters (5 inches), the center said. Some coastal communities in New Jersey, including Sea Isle City, had already experienced flooding on Saturday.
Areas of southeastern New York and southern New England could also receive 1 to 3 inches of rain, while surf waves are expected to affect much of the East Coast through the weekend, the center said.
Philippe Papin, a hurricane specialist at the center, said the main risk to the future of the storm system was the threat of flooding from the rain.
“Tropical storm-force winds have been observed, but these are beginning to gradually weaken as the system moves further inland,” Papin said in an interview early Saturday. “However, there is a significant risk of flooding over the next 12 to 24 hours for much of eastern North Carolina into southern Virginia.”
The storm came ashore near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, on Saturday morning with near-hurricane-force winds of 70 miles per hour (113 km/h), but the winds weakened as the system moved north the center with.
Social media videos showed riverfront communities in North Carolina such as New Bern, Belhaven and Washington experiencing significant flooding. The extent of the damage was not initially clear.
Even before landing, Ophelia proved to be so treacherous that five people, including three children aged ten or younger, had to be rescued by the coast guard on Friday evening. They were aboard a 40-foot catamaran anchored in Lookout Bight in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, which was stuck in choppy waters in high winds.
The sailboat’s owner called the Coast Guard via cell phone, triggering a nighttime rescue mission in which the crew used flares to navigate to the sailboat, help those on board and abandon the boat. A Coast Guard helicopter illuminated the path back to the station. No injuries were reported.
Tens of thousands of North Carolina homes and businesses remained without power in several eastern counties Saturday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports. A map from Duke Energy showed scattered power outages across much of eastern North Carolina as winds knocked down tree branches and blocked power lines.
“If there is a slow-moving storm with several inches of rain and a gust of 30 to 40 miles per hour, that’s enough to bring down a tree or branches,” Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said WTVD-TV on Saturday.
Brian Haines, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, said there were reports of downed trees but no major road closures.
At the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Carl Cannon Jr. said he hopes to salvage part of this weekend’s long-running pirate invasion of Beaufort, a multi-day event centered around the Spanish attack on the city in 1747. The wind tore down the large tent for a banquet planned for Saturday and several other tents were damaged or torn.
Cannon Jr. hoped the wet and windy conditions would allow the Pirates performers to clash in Beaufort on Sunday. “If I can get the boats there, we will attack and the people will fight on the shore,” he said.
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland each declared states of emergency on Friday.
It’s not unusual for one or two tropical storms or even hurricanes to develop off the East Coast each year, said Michael Brennan, director of the National Hurricane Center.
“We are in the middle of the peak of hurricane season. “Basically, storms can form anywhere in the Atlantic basin,” Brennan said in an interview Friday.
A study simulated tropical cyclone Traces from pre-industrial times, modern times and a future with higher emissions. It found that hurricanes would move closer to the coasts, including around Boston, New York City and Virginia, and would be more likely to form along the southeast coast.
In some areas where the storm hit Saturday, the impact was modest. Aaron Montgomery, 38, said he noticed a leak in the roof of his family’s new home in Williamsburg, Virginia. They were still able to make the hour-long drive to Virginia Beach for his wife’s birthday, where the surf and wind were strong but the rain had stopped, he said.
“No leak in a roof is insignificant, so we will definitely have to take care of it on Monday morning,” he said.
Mattise reported from Nashville, Tennessee. AP radio reporter Jackie Quinn in Washington and AP writers Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed.