Hurricane Earl bears down on Outer Banks, following well-worn path

Hurricane Earl is only the latest hurricane to put North Carolina in its path. The state has seen billions of dollars of damage since its founding.

Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post/AP/File
Gary Long (l.) and John Johnson (r.) rescue Ellen Williams from her car on US Route 17, near Shallotte, N.C., Sept. 15, 1999, after a creek swollen by rains from hurricane Floyd overflowed its banks and covered the highway. Early Friday, hurricane Earl is likely to bring heavy rains and possible flooding to the Outer Banks and eastern edge of North Carolina.

Hurricane Earl is projected to brush the Outer Banks of North Carolina early Friday morning. While the path of the storm should keep the hurricane's eye offshore, the eastern edge of the state is likely to see heavy rains and winds.

Authorities evacuated Ocracoke Island and asked vacationers to leave the northern Outer Banks in advance of hurricane Earl.

"We're sad that they have to leave," said Gray Berryman, an Outer Banks real estate agent in Duck, N.C., who had decided to ride out the storm. "I am hopeful that everything is going to be A-OK."

For North Carolina residents, this is nothing new.

The state has been hit or grazed by 100 storms since its founding, and has averaged two hurricanes a year for the past two decades. Most don't make landfall, but a hurricane's influence extends well beyond its immediate eyewall, so their influence has been felt.

September is the most dangerous month for North Carolinians, with 41 of the 100 recorded storms. The second worst month for hurricanes, August has seen 31 storms since 1800. If they can make it through September, North Carolina residents can start to relax; October has seen only 14 hurricanes, and November only one.

The most recent heavy hit to North Carolina came from hurricane Floyd, which made landfall just after midnight, Sept. 16, 1999. Hurricane Floyd was the deadliest storm of the century for North Carolina, claiming 35 lives, mostly from the flooding. The National Guard and the Coast Guard rescued nearly 1,700 people trapped by the rapidly rising flood waters.

Floyd was also the costliest hurricane of the century for North Carolina, hurricane Floyd caused about $1.4 billion in damage to insured property (about $1.8 billion in 2010 dollars), according to the Insurance Information Institute. Hurricane Fran, in 1996, ran a close second, causing $1.3 billion of damage (only about $25 million less than Floyd, in constant dollars).

That's just the insured property. Hurricanes Floyd and Fran also caused almost $700 million in flooding damage (not all in North Carolina), paid by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

A big factor behind the rising cost of hurricanes is the rising number and value of housing along the coast. In Dare County, for example, which encompasses most of the Outer Banks, the number homes is up 21 percent and the median value of homes in the county has more than doubled since Floyd hit in 1999.

North Carolina's coastal residents have taken steps to protect themselves. As of June 30, North Carolina residents collectively held almost 180,000 "beach and windstorm" insurance policies, worth $69.0 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

That's double the insured value residents held in 2004.

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