Updated 2:25 p.m., Sept. 26
Storm surge from Hurricane Maria is flooding some parts of the Outer Banks. Forecasters are watching waters rise in the southern Pamlico Sound and the Outer Banks as the storm's outer bands sweep across the North Carolina coast.
The National Weather Service is calling for two to four feet of storm surge, which could wash across Highway 12. Meteorologist Hal Austin says a storm surge warning and tropical storm warning will stay in effect through Wednesday.
“Winds could gust up to around 50 to 55 miles per hour on the immediate Outer Banks, Down East Carteret possibly between 40 and 50 miles per hour,” Austin said. “That's from today through Wednesday evening.”
Thousands of visitors had to cancel vacation plans on Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands. Visitors were told to evacuate yesterday.
Maria is expected to quickly move out to sea early Thursday morning.
Updated 9:15 a.m., Sept. 26
Hundreds of visitors have abandoned their vacation plans and left North Carolina's Outer Banks ahead of Hurricane Maria as it moves northward in the Atlantic, churning up surf and bringing the possibility of flooding.
The hurricane that battered the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico last week has weakened slightly with maximum sustained winds Tuesday morning near 75 mph (120 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria is expected to keep gradually weakening and is forecast to become a tropical storm Tuesday night or Wednesday.
In North Carolina, more than 200 visitors already have left Hyde County's Ocracoke Island amid a mandatory evacuation order imposed early Monday on that fragile barrier island jutting into the Atlantic.
Authorities warned that high winds and flooding were possible threats as Maria passed well offshore.
Neighboring Dare County also ordered an evacuation of visitors from neighboring Hatteras Island starting at midday. Schools in the county were closed Tuesday.
Tourists packed up and drove off Monday — some after only one day of what was supposed to be a weeklong vacation.
On Hatteras, Jay Wrenn and his wife packed up their car for the five-hour drive back home to Burlington, North Carolina.
They had arrived at their rented cottage in Rodanthe on Sunday with a week's worth of groceries. By noon Monday the macaroni salad they had made was in the trash.
Meanwhile, business owners braced for what they said would be yet another financial hit this season. A construction accident at the peak of tourist season in late July cut power to Ocracoke and Hatteras for several days, resulting in the evacuation of an estimated 50,000 tourists. Businesses lost millions of dollars.
The storm was centered about 210 miles (340 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, Tuesday morning and was moving north at 7 mph (11 kph). A tropical storm warning was in effect for a swath of the North Carolina coast from Bogue Inlet to the Virginia border.
Maria hit Puerto Rico as a major Category 4 hurricane last week and claimed dozens of lives in its rampage across the Caribbean.
Updated 1:17 p.m., Sept. 25
Vacationers are packing up and business owners are bracing for another financial hit this season as Hurricane Maria churns offshore of North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Mandatory evacuations for tourists began Monday for Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Forecasters predict some flooding starting Tuesday as Maria heads north over the Atlantic well off the Eastern seaboard.
The storm is already impacting Wilmington, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Stephen Keebler.
"We certainly are seeing the effects mainly out over the water, where we have high surf conditions and dangerous rip currents," Keebler said. "We have a high surf advisory in effect through tomorrow night for surf heights of 6-to-8 feet, maybe even a little bit higher."
A hotel owner on Ocracoke said the storm hurts business during a season that's already seen heavy financial losses. A construction accident cut power and spurred evacuations for several days in July and August.
Blackbeard's Lodge owner Chip Stevens said Maria effectively makes 2017 a two-storm season, which is the "worst-case scenario."
Tourists were also disappointed. Jay Wrenn, his wife and their dog were forced to leave Rodanthe on Hatteras on Monday. They had arrived Sunday with a week's worth of groceries.
The Hyde County Sheriff's office said the evacuation began at 5 a.m. Monday on Ocracoke Island.
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning from Cape Lookout to Duck on the Outer Banks. A tropical storm watch was in effect from Surf City to Cape Lookout and from Duck to the North Carolina-Virginia state line.
Hyde County commissioners ordered the evacuation on the island still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Jose.
A storm surge of 2 feet (0.6 meters) to 4 feet (1 meter) is possible. Up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain could fall through Wednesday.