Ophelia made landfall on the North Carolina coast early Saturday as a tropical storm, lashing coastal areas with damaging winds and dangerous surges of water, the National Hurricane Center said, before being downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone Saturday night.
Despite weakening, it still posed “a risk of coastal and flash flooding” across the Mid-Atlantic, the hurricane center said, with flash flooding possible from Virginia to New Jersey through Sunday.
Videos from social media showed riverfront communities in North Carolina such as New Bern, Belhaven and Washington experiencing significant flooding. The extent of the damage was not immediately clear.
The center of Ophelia had moved into southeastern Virginia Saturday night, the hurricane center reported. It was expected to reach the Delmarva Peninsula — which includes portions of Maryland and Delaware — on Sunday.
Ophelia had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph Saturday evening, and was about 30 miles southwest of Richmond, Virginia. It was moving north at 8 mph.
Radar, hurricane hunter aircraft and observers on the ground found that Ophelia’s center came ashore at around 6:15 a.m. local time near Emerald Isle with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, the hurricane center said. That’s roughly 25 miles northwest of Cape Lookout, the center said.
Even before it made landfall, the storm proved treacherous enough that five people had to be rescued by the Coast Guard on Friday night from a boat anchored down near the North Carolina coastline.
Parts of North Carolina and Virginia could expect up to 5 inches of rain, with 1 to 3 inches forecast in the rest of the mid-Atlantic region through Sunday. Some New Jersey shore communities, including Sea Isle City, had already experienced some flooding Saturday.
Philippe Papin, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, said the primary risk of the storm system over the next couple of days will be the threat of floods from the rain.
“There have been tropical storm-force winds observed, but those are starting to gradually subside as the system moves further inland,” Papin said in an interview Saturday, according to the Associated Press. “However, there is a significant flooding rainfall threat for a large portion of eastern North Carolina into southern Virginia over the next 12 to 24 hours.”
The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared a state of emergency Friday ahead of Ophelia’s arrival as some schools closed early and several weekend events were canceled.
“When you have that slow-moving storm with several inches of rain, coupled with a gust that gets to 30, 40 miles per hour, that’s enough to bring down a tree or to bring down limbs,” Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks told WTVD-TV on Saturday, according to the AP. “And that’s what we’ve seen in most of the areas where we’ve experienced outages.”
Brian Haines, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, said there were also reports of downed trees, but no major road closings.
Several storm surge and tropical storm warnings for North Carolina, Virginia and Delaware were canceled Saturday night.
Five people, including three children 10 or younger, needed the Coast Guard’s help on the water when conditions worsened Friday. They were aboard a 38-foot catamaran anchored in Lookout Bight in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, stuck in choppy water with strong winds.
According to the Coast Guard, the sailboat’s owner called them on a cellphone, prompting a nighttime rescue mission in which the crew used flares to navigate to the five people using a Coast Guard boat, then helped them aboard and left the sailboat behind. A Coast Guard helicopter lit up the path back to the station. There were no injuries reported.
In Washington, the Nationals baseball team postponed its Saturday game until Sunday.
At the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Carl Cannon Jr. told the AP he hopes he can salvage some of this weekend’s long-running Beaufort Pirate Invasion, a multiday event centering on the 1747 Spanish attack on the town.
But the storm’s winds tore down the big tent for a banquet that was planned for Saturday and several other tents were damaged or shredded. Cannon Jr. worries the financial hit will be significant, even with people helping clean up and offering to run online fundraisers.