Arthur approaches N.Carolina; vacationers head out

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Nicole Specht, and and Ryan Witman, pack their Honda CRV heading back home to Lancaster Pa., before dawn on Thursday, July 3, 2014, during a mandatory evacuation, in Rodanthe, N.C. Arthur strengthened to a hurricane early Thursday and threatened to give North Carolina a glancing blow on Independence Day, prompting a stream of vacationers and residents to head home from some parts of the state’s popular but flood-prone Outer Banks. (AP Photo/Jerome Bailey Jr.)

Nicole Specht, and and Ryan Witman, pack their Honda CRV heading back home to Lancaster Pa., before dawn on Thursday, July 3, 2014, during a mandatory evacuation, in Rodanthe, N.C. Arthur strengthened to a hurricane early Thursday and threatened to give North Carolina a glancing blow on Independence Day, prompting a stream of vacationers and residents to head home from some parts of the state’s popular but flood-prone Outer Banks. (AP Photo/Jerome Bailey Jr.)

Eddie Skakle and his wife Gail secure kayaks at their kayak rental business, A. S. Austin Co., in Hatteras Village, N.C., on Thursday, July 3, 2014. Hurricane Arthur is forecast to pass by North Carolina’s Hatteras Island Friday morning. The island is under mandatory evacuation orders. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot,Steve Earley) MAGS OUT

Clouds and rain move in as a man jogs along the shore of the north end of Carolina Beach, N.C., Thursday, July 3, 2014. Residents along the coast of North Carolina are bracing for the arrival of the Hurricane Arthur, which threatens to give the state a glancing blow on Independence Day. (AP Photo/Wilmington Star-News, Mike Spencer)

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse shines on Hatteras Island, N.C., before dawn on Thursday, July 3, 2014. The island is under a mandatory evacuation order because of approaching Hurricane Arthur. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot,Steve Earley) MAGS OUT

A car loaded down with bikes, kayaks and surfboards heads north on NC 12 through Buxton on Hatteras Island, N.C., at dawn on Thursday, July 3, 2014. The island is under a mandatory evacuation order because of approaching Hurricane Arthur. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot,Steve Earley) MAGS OUT

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RODANTHE, N.C. (AP) — Arthur strengthened to a hurricane Thursday and threatened to give North Carolina a glancing blow on Independence Day, prompting thousands of vacationers and residents to leave parts of the state’s popular but flood-prone Outer Banks.

Nichole Specht, 27, and Ryan Witman, 28, had pre-loaded their Honda CRV and left Hatteras Island at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, beating the expected traffic jam. The island was under an evacuation order, with no traffic allowed in. Officials asked an estimated 35,000 residents and travelers to leave through North Carolina Route 12, the only road on and off Hatteras.

Specht and Witman found the road wide open for their return home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Specht said her parents left their rental later, at 5 a.m., and also found clear sailing.

“We were just saying we were really, really lucky this year that the weather was so great, and then this,” Specht said as she ended a two-week vacation that included scouting sites for the couple’s wedding next year.

Forecasters expect Arthur to whip past the Outer Banks — a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands with about 57,000 permanent residents — on Friday without making landfall but still bringing rain, heavy winds, storm surge and dangerous rip tides.

Before the storm hit, tourism officials had expected 250,000 people to travel to the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend. Gov. Pat McCrory warned people not to risk their safety by trying to salvage their picnics, barbecues and pre-paid beach cottage vacations.

“Don’t put your stupid hat on,” McCrory said.

The National Hurricane Center predicted Arthur would swipe the North Carolina coast early Friday with winds of up to 85 mph and then be off the coast of New England later in the day, eventually making landfall in Canada’s maritime provinces as a tropical storm.

Outer Banks residents and out-of-town visitors who fail to evacuate ahead of the hurricane’s expected arrival should prepare for possibly getting stuck for several days without food, water or power, National Hurricane Center forecaster Stacy Stewart said Thursday.

“We want the public to take this system very seriously, go ahead and start their preparations because time is beginning to run out,” he said.

Arthur, the first named storm of the Atlantic season, prompted a hurricane warning for much of the North Carolina coast. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for coastal areas in South Carolina and Virginia. On the Outer Banks’ Ocracoke Island, accessible only by ferry, a voluntary evacuation was underway. The evacuation for Hatteras Island residents and visitors began at 5 a.m. Officials called it mandatory, but some residents were likely to stay to try to ride out the hurricane, as in past storms.

Before sunset Wednesday on Route 12, a long line of cars, trailers and recreational vehicles formed a steady stream of traffic. The road has been sliced apart twice in recent years as storms cut temporary channels from the ocean to the sound. The road is easily blocked by sand and water.

Gary Reinhardt, 63, and his wife Lori, both of Sarasota, Florida, said they planned to leave Rodanthe early Thursday. So were nearly two dozen other family members from California, Nebraska and Michigan.

“I’m worried about the road. It took way too long to get here,” Gary Reinhardt said. He noted a delay of more than two hours getting on the island Sunday, with no storm issues. He worried their departure would take twice as long Thursday.

Mike Rabe of Virginia Beach, Virginia, planned to stay in his Outer Banks beach home the entire weekend. He and his wife, Jan, arrived Wednesday and set to work stowing lawn furniture and anything else that could be tossed about by winds. He said he’d spend Thursday helping a friend and longtime resident get his water sports shop and campground ready for bad weather.

“I’m going to help him prepare and then I’m going to ride

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