Vacationers streamed hundreds of miles inland for a place to spend the night Thursday as a weakened Hurricane Bertha staggered toward the Carolina shores during the height of the summer season.
“We don’t want to take a chance,” Mary Ann Stibbe of Sylvania, Ohio, said before heading away from Sunset Beach, N.C., where she was vacationing. “There are certain gambles you don’t take in your life, and this is one of them.”
The center of the hurricane will most likely hit Myrtle Beach around noon today with 80 mph winds, but hurricane-force winds will be felt hours earlier along the Carolina coasts, Hurricane Center Deputy Director Jerry Jarrell said.
And although top winds dropped to 80 mph from 105 mph Thursday afternoon, Bertha is so big - more than 400 miles wide - that tropical storm-force winds of more than 39 mph were already menacing the coasts Thursday night.
Bertha’s eye shifted slightly west, but Jarrell said people in North Carolina should remain wary.
“I don’t think there’s any reason at all that they should relax because they’re on the bad side of it,” he said.
Jarrell also predicted that Bertha would linger over land, losing strength and focus after hitting the coast.
“Once it gets over land, it’ll probably just become a nor’easter,” he said, adding that Bertha will dwindle to a rainstorm by the time it reaches cities in the Northeast.
Coastal communities ordered another round of evacuations, sending a two-day total of more than 100,000 North Carolina residents and vacationers to higher ground.