by Kirk Ross, Coastal Review Online
Residents and relief teams on Ocracoke and Hatteras islands have started the long road toward restoring communities battered by heavy winds and a soundside storm surge of historic proportions as Hurricane Dorian raked the North Carolina coast late last week.
Access to Ocracoke remained closed Sunday evening after storm surge estimated at around 7 feet inundated much of the village, rising in less than two hours as Hurricane Dorian passed over the island and up through the Outer Banks.
Peter Vankevich, co-publisher of the Ocracoke Observer, said over the weekend that it’s likely that most of the vehicles on the island were destroyed, making recovery work and moving materials and supplies all the more difficult. He said supplies and recovery workers have been steadily arriving on the island, the first wave of them by all-weather helicopters early in the crisis.
“Right now it’s like a hub here,” Vankevich said from the Ocracoke Fire Station, which was also flooded during the storm, but has since been set up as a headquarters for the recovery teams. Some are going door to door to check on residents and survey damage.
Vankevich said residents were coming in to use the generators at the town radio station and the fire station to charge their phones.
Several homes and businesses on the island reported flooding for the first time, including the Variety Store on N.C. 12, which reported 2 feet of water.
After returning from a visit to the island to survey damage, Gov. Roy Cooper said many residents were still in a state of shock over how quickly the surge waters rose and swamped the island.
At a Saturday press conference in Manteo with State House Speaker Tim Moore, who accompanied the governor on the trip, Cooper said there was a great sense of relief that no one on the island was killed or seriously injured, but the damage there is widespread and the recovery will be long.
“There were a few people there who didn’t get water in their homes, but most of them did,” he said.
Cooper said the state is working on the final round of documentation necessary to apply for federal disaster funds.
Meanwhile the community is asking for supplies and volunteers. Residents have set up an email hotline at email@example.com for those wanting to help.
Ferry service, reentry
Ferry service from Swan Quarter resumed Saturday morning, but was initially limited to relief supplies and personnel.
Hyde County sped up the return process in order to allow residents to begin work on their homes as quickly as possible, according to a statement released on Saturday.
Hyde County began Monday allowing permanent Ocracoke residents to return. You must have a green reentry pass or a Hatteras priority boarding pass sticker on your vehicle to board the ferry.
Emergency personnel with red reentry passes and deliveries deemed critical to recovery and preauthorized by incident command staff will have boarding priority over residents. Be aware that you are not guaranteed a spot on the ferry.
Officials warned of limited resources on the island and homes that may not be habitable. There was no power Sunday evening and a boil water advisory was in effect. There were no shelters on the island for displaced residents.
The state Ferry Division plans to add an additional route to Ocracoke via the Hatteras ferry terminal that will come directly to Silver Lake. There are some restrictions on that route due to the type of ferry being used and the ramps available. The ferry division is advising that vehicles with low clearance will not be able to board this route.
The ferry schedule for Monday will be as follows:
- Hatteras to Ocracoke-Silver Lake: 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
- Ocracoke-Silver Lake to Hatteras: 10:30 a.m., 12:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Only high-clearance vehicles will be allowed on the Hatteras-Silver Lake route.
In addition, the Ferry Division’s Pamlico Sound routes will be on the following schedule:
- Swan Quarter to Ocracoke: 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
- Ocracoke to Swan Quarter: 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
- Cedar Island to Ocracoke: 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Ocracoke to Cedar Island: 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
All fuel deliveries to Ocracoke should use the 9 a.m. Swan Quarter to Ocracoke departure.
Residents must have a green reentry pass or a Hatteras priority boarding sticker on their vehicle to board the ferry.
Hatteras Island reopening as recovery begins
Dare County officials announced Sunday night that access to areas south of Oregon Inlet is at Priority 3, which includes nonresident property owners and employees of noncritical businesses. The county plans to open unrestricted access to Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo at noon Tuesday allowing visitors to return.
The Salvation Army began operating mobile food kitchens on Sunday providing three daily meals at the Old PNC Bank in Buxton and Frisco Fire Department. Meal times are 8 a.m. noon and 6 p.m.
Much of Hatteras Island experienced some of the same storm surge as Ocracoke as winds from the storm, by then a powerful Category 1, pushed water out of the northern end of Pamlico Sound driving it into Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras Village. Like other powerful storms that traced the Outer Banks, Dorian will be remembered for that eerie moment when the sound goes temporarily dry in places.
Sam Walker, news director of Beach 104FM and OBX today, said the tidal flats of the sound were visible for more than 100 years out during the storm an image that brings back memories of Hurricane Emily in 1993 and Irene and 2011. It’s a sight, he said, that makes everyone nervous.
“They all get concerned because they know the water is going to come back at some point,” Walker said of residents with vivid memories of those storm and the dry flats that preceded the storm surge.
This time the surge to the south did not return northward with the same force, but hurricane force winds bashed the power grid there as it did farther south and several places on the mainland.
Power being restored
Over the weekend power was slowly being restored as crews worked to replace damaged power infrastructure.
More than 10,000 residents and businesses in the area were without power after a Dominion Energy substation was taken out of commission by the storm. The company reported Sunday night that power has been restored to all but about 100 customers in Chowan, Currituck and Dare counties.
As of noon Sunday, Tideland Electric reported 1,389 outages on Ocracoke, 417 on the mainland in Hyde County, 651 in Dare County, 820 in Beaufort County, 232 in Pamlico County, 32 in Washington County and seven in Craven County.
At the height of the storm companies logged about 200,000 outages in eastern North Carolina.
Transportation also remains difficult in places along N.C. 12 and secondary roads on the islands.
Jerry Jennings, chief engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s District 1, said crews were working to remove sand and continuing to assess damage to the roadway on the northern end of Ocracoke Island and on Pea Island, just south of Oregon Inlet.