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Irene moves out to sea; river flooding expected this week

Updated:
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) -- Hurricane Irene raced out to sea today,
but not before dumping nearly a foot of rain in parts of eastern
North Carolina and rekindling fears of residents displaced by
Hurricane Floyd a month ago.

North Carolina's third hurricane in two months churned through
Florida during the weekend and up the southeast U.S. coast toward
the Carolinas. Late Sunday, it turned northeast back to sea.

Irene's maximum sustained winds increased to 105 mph overnight
and it accelerated its movement out into the Atlantic. Tropical
storm warnings were canceled as the storm moved away from the
coast.

"Given the current forecast track, the core of the hurricane
should stay off the North Carolina coast," said Jack Beven, a
hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
"It looks like it will go out to sea and will never return."

At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm was 240 miles south of Massachusetts'
Nantucket Island, moving northeast at 39 mph. Storm surges of up to
4 feet above normal were expected to decrease later today.

Torrential rains -- mostly from 3 inches to 6 inches but up to 11
inches in isolated areas -- closed several dozen roads. The rain had
stopped falling by early today, and forecasters expected skies to
clear rapidly.

But delayed river flooding and washed-out roads were still the
biggest concern to state officials. The Tar, Neuse and Cape Fear
rivers were expected to be above flood stage by the middle of the
week. During Floyd, most of the state's 49 deaths involved rising
water, not high wind.

"The sun can come out, the winds can die down, and there can
still be deadly force among us," state public safety secretary
Richard Moore said Sunday.

Officials in south-central Hoke County today evacuated 150 homes
near a small lake whose dam was overflowing and in danger of
breaking. Public schools in several eastern counties were closed or
delaying opening today because of uncertain road conditions.

Authorities said that roughly 500 people in adjacent Cumberland
County were without water after their water system failed.

In southeastern Virginia, the hurricane dumped up to a foot of
rain Sunday and early today.

"There are a number of streets that are flooded out and
impassable," Mike Carey, a police spokesman in Virginia Beach,
said Sunday night. "We have a lot of disabled vehicles in flooded
out streets that we simply cannot get to."

In South Carolina, more than 6 inches of rain fell on Horry
County, which was still trying to dry out from the 20 inches of
rain left behind by Hurricane Floyd. The rain had stopped by Sunday
night.

As Irene neared North Carolina, an evacuation order was issued
for several beach towns near Wilmington, and people living in
low-lying areas and mobile homes were encouraged to seek shelter.

Many left homeless by Floyd, which dumped up to 20 inches of
rain Sept. 16, were evacuated from temporary trailer villages to
shelters. About 6,000 homes were damaged during Floyd, with damage
expected in the billions of dollars.

"It's sad, it's really sad," said Fannie Lewis of Princeville,
which took the brunt of Floyd's deluge last month. She was waiting
out Irene at a Rocky Mount school that was turned into a shelter.
"I'm trying to hold on because where there's a will there's a way.
But this is sad."

The American Red Cross reported at least 690 people were staying
in shelters Sunday night. More than 2,100 homes and businesses were
without power in the eastern half of the state as of Sunday
evening.

Moore said the worst flooding was expected in the Fayetteville
area and along the Cape Fear River, which was expected later this
week to crest 20 feet above flood stage, or more than 10 feet
higher than it climbed after Floyd.

A 43-year-old motorist died Sunday in a storm-related accident
when a vehicle hydroplaned into a tree in Granville County. Irene
has been blamed for seven deaths, five of them in Florida and two
in Cuba.

Two people were injured from separate tornadoes spawned by the
hurricane. One touched down Sunday evening near Weeksville in
Pasquotank County, destroying six homes, damaging several more and
causing one injury. Another tornado caused damage and an injury
near Jacksonville.

Wind gusts reached 47 mph on the Outer Banks late Sunday.

State officials prepared for Irene by activating 500 National
Guardsmen, opening 39 Guard armories and putting 10 water rescue
teams on standby.

"We may not see the real dangers present themselves for several
days," said Andy James with North Carolina's emergency response
team.

Meanwhile, another weather system in the Atlantic became
Tropical Storm Jose early today and was expected to strengthen into
a hurricane in the next few days.

Barbados was put under a hurricane watch and forecasters said a
similar watch could be issued for the southeastern Caribbean later
today.

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