Hurricane Irene: North Carolina battered during Category 1

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NAGS HEAD, N.C. (AP) - Hurricane Irene unleashed its winds and rain Saturday on eastern North Carolina, raking coastal villages and reaching well inland to topple trees, flood towns and leave hundreds of thousands without power.

The unrelenting winds and torrential downpours started long before landfall around 7:30 a.m. near Cape Lookout and kept coming throughout the day. Few places in the eastern third of the state were spared. Some of the worst flooding happened along the state's sounds, where water from the ocean was forced into the narrow inlets, then spilled into neighborhoods.

One man was killed in Nash County after a tree limb fell on him outside his home Saturday morning as some outer bands from the storm brought near hurricane-force gusts more than 100 miles island. A child died when the vehicle she was in wrecked at an intersection in Goldsboro where Irene had knocked out power, authorities said.

Rescue crews continued to search Saturday for a man who jumped or fell into the Cape Fear River as the storm raged the night before, but did not find him.

Two other deaths were reported as the storm swept over the state, but authorities weren't sure if the storm was to blame. A man had a heart attack while boarding up his windows in Onslow County and a man was killed when his car ran off the road and hit a tree in Pit County.

More than 615,000 people were left without electricity Saturday evening, and utility crews warned it could be days before they were able to get everyone's power back on. Officials said Irene lingered so long that there wasn't time in daylight to do much damage assessment.

But Gov. Beverly Perdue said initial reports made it obvious the "state and our people have sustained some really significant damage."

"It's been a hard day for all of us in North Carolina," she said.

The National Hurricane Center said Irene was a Category 1, the weakest of the five categories of hurricanes. But across the state, emergency planners said this wasn't like any Category 1 they have seen before. It had strong winds - a 115 mph gust was recorded by employees at the Cedar Island ferry terminal near where Irene made landfall and many areas got up to 7 inches of rain as Irene churned across the state for 12 hours, exiting from the northern Outer Banks, where she gave one final blow by flooding much of Manteo with up to 3 feet water.

The water rushed into Manteo from the sounds, which caused most of Saturday's flooding because of the storm's track just inland.

The National Guard had to be called to rescue several people from the roofs or second stories of their homes in eastern Pamlico County after the Pamlico Sound came rushing into the eastern part of the county, County Manager Tim Buck said.

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