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Close-Up: Irene Breaches Outer Banks

(Image credit: NOAA)

Flood waters from Hurricane Irene sliced through portions of Highway 12 on North Carolina's Hatteras Island. Highway 12, which extends along the Outer Banks, is the only road connecting Hatteras Island to the mainland. At Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, water and shifting sand damaged the highway in multiple locations.

This aerial photo, acquired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on August 28, 2011, is part of a larger project to assess damage from Hurricane Irene along the U.S. East Coast. The largest breach in Highway 12 appears midway down the image where water flows between Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. North and south of this breach, the road has been compromised in other places, by what appears to be a combination of water and sand.

Damage to Highway 12 stranded at least 2,500 residents of Hatteras Island, according to news reports. The Los Angeles Times reported that, in at least three locations, water surged from Pamlico Sound through the barrier island toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The News Observer reported that new gaps in Highway 12 are near sites of ancient inlets that have alternately opened and closed for centuries. The Island Free Press reported that the largest breach in Hatteras Island is estimated at more than 100 feet (30 meters) wide and 8 feet (2.5 meters) deep.

In addition to a breached highway, residents of Hatteras Island also had to cope with downed power lines. On August 29, state officials started a ferry service to shuttle emergency personnel to and from Hatteras. As of that date, no injuries had been reported on the island.

Live Science Staff
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