ANNAPOLIS — Residents along the coast of North Carolina and Virginia experienced flooding Saturday after Tropical Storm Ophelia made landfall near a barrier island in North Carolina, bringing rain, damaging winds and dangerous storm surge.
The storm made landfall near the Emerald Isle with winds of 70 mph (113 km/h), approaching a hurricane, but the winds weakened as it moved north and the center of the storm reached Virginia in the evening, the center reported. Hurricane National in the United States. Ophelia is expected to head northeast along the mid-Atlantic coast toward New Jersey on Sunday.
At 7:44 p.m. EDT, the center reported that Ophelia had weakened to a tropical depression, a weak form of a tropical storm, and that all storm surge and tropical storm warnings had been discontinued.
Still, videos circulating on social media showed that riverfront communities in North Carolina such as New Bern, Belhaven and Washington suffered significant flooding. The extent of the damage was not initially clear.
Even before it made landfall, the storm proved so treacherous that the Coast Guard had to rescue five people from a boat anchored near the coast of North Carolina on Friday evening.
Winds eased and were expected to move northeast of the country on Sunday.
“Further weakening is expected and Ophelia will likely strengthen into a post-tropical cyclone tomorrow,” the Hurricane Center said in a statement released Saturday evening.
Even before landing, Ophelia proved so unpredictable that the Coast Guard had to rescue five people from a sailboat anchored off the coast of North Carolina on Friday evening.
Ophelia promises a weekend of windy conditions and heavy rain lashing the country’s east coast, with the storm moving north at a speed of around 12 mph (19 km/h) from Saturday night. Areas of North Carolina and Virginia can expect up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain, and 1 to 3 inches (3 to 8 centimeters) is forecast for the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region through Sunday. Some New Jersey coastal communities, including Sea Isle City, were already experiencing flooding Saturday.
Philippe Papin, hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said the main threat from the storm system will be the risk of flooding from rain in the coming days.
“Tropical storm-force winds have been observed, but are gradually weakening as the system moves inland,” Papin said in an interview early Saturday. “However, a significant risk of flooding remains over much of eastern North Carolina into southern Virginia over the next 12 to 24 hours.”
Power outages spread to more states outside North Carolina, where tens of thousands of homes and businesses remained without power in several eastern counties Saturday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks public utility reports. A map from Duke Energy showed scattered power outages across much of eastern North Carolina, where winds knocked down tree branches and blocked power lines.
Five people, including three children aged 10 and younger, needed help from the Coast Guard in the water as conditions deteriorated on Friday. They were aboard a 40-foot catamaran anchored in Lookout Bight in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, stuck in rough water and high winds.
According to the Coast Guard, the owner of the sailboat called them on his cell phone and initiated a nighttime rescue mission in which the crew used flares to navigate a Coast Guard boat to the five people, then helped them aboard and exited the boat. Sailboat behind A Coast Guard helicopter lit the way back to the station. No injuries were reported.