Hurricane Gloria, billed as one of the century’s most dangerous Atlantic storms, blew across the North Carolina shore early today with its 130-m.p.h. winds and threatened to cut a destructive swath along the coast from Cape Hatteras as far north as Cape Cod.
The eye of the hurricane churned into the village of Buxton on the Outer Banks at 1:15 a.m., the National Weather Service said.
Earlier, the storm had battered the coast with gale-force winds and sent more than 200,000 people fleeing from its path.
By nightfall, winds on Gloria’s edge had ripped apart a 200-foot pier at nearby Atlantic Beach, N.C., while a torrential downpour covered the streets of neighboring Beaufort with three feet of water. Waves of 8 to 12 feet were reported.
At midnight, the center of the hurricane, where winds reached 130 m.p.h., was about 50 miles south of Cape Hatteras, moving north at 25 m.p.h. The 300-mile-wide storm was expected to hit North Carolina early today and move up the coast toward New England during the day.
Meanwhile, this fishing and farm community of 4,300 people was like a ghost town as residents left their homes along the low-lying coast, which juts out into the Atlantic with nothing between it and the open sea but a scattering of sandy islands. They assembled in evacuation centers here or streamed out of town after officials warned that Morehead City was the bull’s eye of Gloria’s expected target.
Windows were boarded up with plywood or crisscrossed with tape, boats were tied down securely in the marinas. All but a handful of businesses were closed, though hardware stores, drugstores and gas stations were staying open as long as they could so that people could buy batteries, flashlights, distilled water, ropes and similar emergency supplies.
One bar, George’s Lounge, was open for a “hurricane party” on the town’s main street, but at West Carteret High School the mood was subdued as townspeople, farm families from the surrounding countryside and others waited quietly for the full force of the storm to hit.
A Fact of Life
And, while hurricanes are a recurrent fact of life for longtime residents, newcomers waited with visible apprehension. “I’ve never been through anything like this,” said Dawn Cornwall, 21, who moved here last November with her Marine Corps husband and took shelter in a local motel Thursday night. “I’m afraid that our house trailer isn’t going to be there when we get back.”
Although Gloria was aimed at the mid-Atlantic states, precautions also were being taken in all of the coastal states up to Massachusetts. Emergency officials in New York City canceled classes at all public schools today and called hurried meetings to review evacuation plans for outlying coastal areas. Officials had the scaffolding on the Statute of Liberty tightened, ordered the twin towers of the World Trade Center closed and readied themselves for a deluge.
“I think anyone who drives a car into New York City tomorrow ought to have his head examined,” Mayor Edward I. Koch said Thursday.
Mandatory evacuations began along the North Carolina coast Thursday morning as seashore residents and Indian summer vacationers joined in a mass exodus toward higher, more sheltered ground. “Hotels are emptying a lot faster than they filled up,” Darae County Sheriff Burt Austin said. “All the tourists are heading home.”
Outer Banks Evacuated
Indeed, along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a frequent target for the great Atlantic storms of the past, most of the 25,000 residents had not waited for orders and instead cleared out of their own accord Wednesday night. On Ocracoke Island, a narrow strip of low sand dunes and tidal marshes near the southern tip of the Outer Banks, nearly all 800 residents had left. Still, there were some exceptions, among them Dave Esham, owner of Ocracoke’s Pony Island Hotel. “There ain’t a soul here now, but I ain’t going to leave,” Esham vowed. “This won’t be fun.”
And many hours before Gloria was due to strike land, the military began shifting hundreds of airplanes and helicopters and dozens of ships away from their home bases on the East Coast and out of harm’s way.
The aircraft carriers Coral Sea and Eisenhower remained at Norfolk, Va., because they are undergoing maintenance. But a flotilla of other craft, ranging in size from aircraft carriers and cruisers down to small personnel carriers, cleared port with full crews aboard, not expected to return until Sunday.
A ‘Pretty Rough Ride’
The evacuation “is nothing we look forward to around here,” said Navy spokesman Troy Sneed, a master chief petty officer. He explained that heavy winds can give some of the ships a “pretty rough ride.”
During a hurricane, however, all but the smallest Navy vessels are safer in the open sea than they would be in port. “You just don’t want these boats sitting at a pier when the heavy winds and rough surf begins,” Sneed said.
The smaller boats were sent to safe havens in Chesapeake Bay, while the larger ships steamed 50 to 100 miles out into the Atlantic, where they sought to sail around the hurricane, Sneed said.
As North Carolina suffered the storm’s first blows, residents of Virginia, next in Gloria’s expected path, braced for the worst. In Norfolk, public officials readied contingency plans for evacuation and prepared to open as many as 15 shelters at public schools for the city’s 280,000 residents.
‘Not Taking Chances’
“This town has not had a hurricane for 20 years and a lot of people felt that it couldn’t happen here,” public information officer June McPartland said. “But they’re not taking any chances now.”
In New Jersey, Gov. Thomas H. Kean ordered the state police and National Guard on standby alert. State officials feared extensive damage in the Atlantic City area, which has fostered billions of dollars of coastal development in South Jersey since the first casino opened in May, 1978.
“If it hits shore in Atlantic City, there’s not gonna be a roof left anywhere,” warned Carl Golden, Kean’s press secretary.
Nevertheless, casino officials said gamblers continued to pour into the city, including a convention of 7,000 furniture manufacturers, even as local and state officials discussed contingency plans to evacuate up to 75,000 people.
In New England, several other governors placed National Guard and state police on standby alert, while state and local officials throughout the region dusted off emergency plans.
Robert Shogan reported from Washington and David Treadwell from Morehead City, N.C. Contributing to this story were Times Staff Writers Bob Drogin and John Goldman in New York and Josh Getlin in Washington.