Buxton, N.C. A stronger-than-expected Hurricane Alex brushed North Carolina's coast Tuesday, cutting power to thousands and flooding Hatteras Island's only link to the mainland but sparing the area a direct hit.
The storm grew to hurricane strength, 74 mph, early in the day and by midday the sustained wind around its eye had revved up to nearly 100 mph, with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center said. By Tuesday night, Alex was back in the Atlantic and headed away from land.
The eye of the storm just barely passed by Cape Hatteras, leaving the east side of the hurricane -- with the strongest wind and heaviest rain -- out at sea instead of battering communities still recovering from last year's devastating Hurricane Isabel. Still, the island town of Beaufort, between the mainland and the Outer Banks, got more than 5 inches of rain.
"This is different from Isabel last year, which came into the coast perpendicularly and went inland and into Virginia," said Richard Knabb, meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "This is comparatively a grazing blow, but still a pretty significant one for Cape Hatteras and areas nearby there."
No injuries were reported, according to a statement from Gov. Mike Easley. The National Guard was called in to help along some parts of the coast.
Waves washing ashore on Hatteras Island made the island's only highway impassable for much of the day from just south of Oregon Inlet, at the north end of the island, to near the town of Avon, the weather service said. The highway connects to the mainland north of Oregon Inlet.
At 8 p.m. Tuesday, Alex was well out to sea, with the hurricane center reporting the storm's center about 110 miles east-northeast of Cape Hatteras and headed northeast. The center said the storm was expected to affect the northeastern United States only with some large swells.
The National Weather Service discontinued all warnings related to the storm.