Hurricane Gordon, the Atlantic's "most bizarre storm" in 22 years, battered North Carolina's Outer Banks before it weakened into a tropical storm Friday and doubled back unexpectedly toward Florida.
Forecasters in Florida kept a wary eye on Gordon, which left a trail of devastation as it took a zigzag course up from the Caribbean earlier this week.
The storm--which didn't reach the 74-m.p.h. hurricane threshold until Thursday, when it was off North Carolina--was blamed for hundreds of deaths in Haiti, and six deaths and at least $200 million in vegetable crop damage in Florida.
"We're not panicking or anything here, but we are taking it seriously," said Mike Rucker, a meteorologist with the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "If it does get as far south as the Bahamas, it gets into warm waters again and can rejuvenate."
By 10 p.m. EST Friday, Gordon had 60-m.p.h. winds and was about 275 miles east of Charleston, S.C. It was drifting south at about 7 m.p.h., and forecasters predicted continued weakening today.
Its southerly motion was expected to continue Friday night.
Forecasters had expected the storm to move slowly northward, losing strength as it reached cooler, more northern waters.
A coastal flood warning remained in effect from North Carolina's border with Virginia to Cape Lookout, southwest of Cape Hatteras, as the National Hurricane Center warned that tides of three to five feet above normal were still expected over portions of the Outer Banks.
The National Hurricane Center also warned that tornadoes were possible over eastern portions of North Carolina.
Rucker called Gordon "the most bizarre storm since September of '72," when Hurricane Dawn hit southern Florida and headed into the open Atlantic.
Like Gordon, Dawn headed north, then turned west toward the Outer Banks, where it got close but never hit land. Dawn then doubled back toward Florida, barely missing Jacksonville.
Residents on the Outer Banks worked Friday to clean up after a punishing high tide with waves up to 16 feet destroyed four empty houses in Kitty Hawk. Three of the houses had been condemned because of heavy damage from earlier storms.
Insurance industry representatives said the storm left a minimum $10 million to $15 million in damage to homes and buildings.
Emergency workers had not ordered residents of the Outer Banks to evacuate, but ocean waters still covered North Carolina 12, the only highway linking the region's isolated resort towns, rendering it impassable.
"A five-mile area on the east end of Ocracoke Island has lost 50% of its dunes," said Bob Woody, public information officer for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park. "Damage is significant."
Gordon's Furious Path
Tropical Storm Gordon killed more than 500 people in Haiti and swamped much of Florida's winter vegetable crop. Gordon, which became a hurricane Thursday, was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday afternoon.