Hurricane Irene Aftermath
September 1, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

A relatively undamaged Ocracoke waits for visitors to return



By CONNIE LEINBACH

Ocracoke Island is relatively damage free five days after Hurricane Irene made its deadly way along the East Coast last weekend.

Today, the sounds of chain saws, hammering, and wood chippers filled the air, but damage to homes and businesses was less severe than the northern villages on Hatteras Island.

“Looking around, it doesn’t even look like a hurricane has been through,” noted Tom Pahl, who, in the bright sunshine on Thursday, was busy repairing the roof of the Slushy Stand along Irvin Garrish Highway.

Getting supplies to complete repairs will be one of the main problems in the days to come, he said. Most building supplies come from Dare Building Supplies in Buxton via the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry, which, at this time, is not available for access since sand is covering a portion of the northern part of Highway 12 on Ocracoke.

“We were very, very lucky,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many island residents who also expressed heartache about the damage done on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Hatteras Island.

The main issue on Ocracoke is the lack of steady electricity.

Since the storm hit and knocked out power lines on Pea Island, Ocracoke has been on generator power, said Heidi Smith, a spokeswoman for Tideland Electric.

She explained that electricity gets to Ocracoke via those lines, then via underwater cable under the Hatteras Inlet’s Rollinson Channel, the ferry lane.

Despite Ocracoke’s power lines being undamaged from the storm, the company must power the island in three different grids on a rolling schedule throughout the day.

“The generator was designed for emergency use and was never designed to power the entire island,” she said about the sporadic power.

She had no information as to when the power lines up the beach will be restored.

However, today Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative general manager Susan Flythe said that crews are making good progress on repairing power poles on Pea Inlet, the site of several breaches. If all goes well, she said, there should be transmission from the 115kV lines by the end of the weekend.

“The more people who are here, the more things get plugged in,” she said.

And the more people here, the more load is on the generators, noted Brian Carter, deputy emergency services director for Hyde County.  That’s why only essential personnel and residents are allowed on the island at present.

“We just ask for people to remain patient while we do the best we can to restore full power,” Carter said from his command post in the Community Center.

He noted that Albert O’Neal clocked winds at 110 mph at the ferry station during the height of the storm.  Sustained winds were 75 mph with 90 mph gusts.  Storm surge was 4 feet, way down from the worse case scenario of a 32-foot surge, he said.

“We were extra pleased how residents evacuated,” he said. “People took it seriously because it was serious.”

Carter said he spent the hurricane in the emergency operations center on Swan Quarter.

“The eye of the storm went right over head,” he said, noting that he took a photo of it.

Now, repairing the infrastructure takes precedence as the islanders try to make re-entry for non-resident property owners and visitors as smooth as possible.

Last year, after Hurricane Earl over Labor Day weekend, some tempers flared as visitors were allowed on the island before residents.

“We’re dedicated first to everyone’s safety, then the infrastructure so that we can support visitors. We can’t do that without power.”

Carter said the EMS team and an advisory council have been meeting twice daily during the emergency to monitor the situation.

Meanwhile, business owners are hopeful that visitors will be arriving soon.

“There’s no point in opening until there’s visitors and power,” noted Amy Johnson, owner of the Pirate’s Chest, as she and two dozen other residents and business owners gathered Thursday afternoon to pick up dozens of packages that had not been delivered for several days.

“Not knowing when the main power will be back is the worst,” noted Bob Chestnut, owner of Ride the Wind Surf Shop, which sells surfboards and gear and does kayak rentals. “The problem with business owners is income. By now, their line of credit is paid off and the income made from mid-August to September is what we live off the rest of the year.”

Nonetheless, Chestnut has been in his shop and on Thursday put kayaks outside, hopeful for some business.

Shane Bryan, a National Park Service ranger, said some of the beach access ramps were flooded.  Those flooded and closed to traffic are Ramp 72 to South Point, Ramp 68 at the campground, and Ramp 59 at the north end of the island.

Each of those has huge holes, and the Park Service is awaiting the arrival of heavy equipment with which to fill them in.

Ocracoke Station, one of the few places to purchase lunch, was opened Sunday morning, noted cashier Laura Death.

The gas tanks are full but some of the food items are depleted, she said, such as hamburger, chicken fingers, and biscuits.

“The food truck is coming tomorrow,” she said.

Restaurants are trying to get open.

Without steady power, the Hyde County Health Department won’t allow them to open, said Paula Schramel, co-owner of The Flying Melon.

But Jason’s and Gaffer’s put up signs that they would be open on Thursday evening.

Cafe Atlantic opened Thursday night because they have their own generator.

Garrick Kalna, owner of the Ocracoke Coffee Shop, said he will try to open mornings as power allows.

The Ocracoke Post Office has had regular mail delivery since Tuesday when Celeste Brooks, postmaster, brought a van full of mail over on the 7 a.m. Swan Quarter ferry. She takes the outgoing mail back on the 12:30 run then remains in Swan Quarter where she is the officer in charge.  At her home in Scranton, she has been without power since Friday.

“But I have a gas stove to cook on -- the only thing to have here --and have food in a cooler,” she said.

Hyde County Manager Mazie Smith confirmed that there still are people in the county without any power at all.

Flooding of the river and the Intracoastal Waterway caused 32 homes to be lost, she said.

“There are leaks in homes and roofs torn off,” she said, “and now there will be mold. For the people who lost homes, it’s rough.”

Smith said FEMA was in Hyde County doing assessments Thursday and has established an office on the mainland and will set up one on Ocracoke soon.

Smith has been in the emergency operations center in Swan Quarter since the hurricane began.

She noted that the unofficial report was that Irene brought 22 inches of rain.

The rain did not last as long on Ocracoke, noted Kari Styron, rental manager at Ocracoke Island Realty.

She said that by Saturday afternoon when she took her dog out for a walk, it was mostly wind.

Styron and her staff have been busy calling homeowners and upcoming renters about the situation here.

Most houses fared well, she said, with only a few blown out windows, a little water and yard debris.

“We are all just feeling so sorry for those folks up the beach,” she said.

Styron waited out the storm with her husband, two children, three cats, one rabbit, one dog, one goat, and one horse.

“The horse stood out in the yard most of the time,” she noted, as did the goat.

Nathan Spencer, director of the Ocracoke Convenience Site and an island native, said he could relate to that, as he watched truck load after truck load of tree limbs and stumps brought by island clean-up crews to be chipped in a FEMA-provided chipper.

“I sat out on the porch the whole time during the hurricane,” he said. “I’m more at ease out there than in the house.”

The Ocracoke School opened Thursday, but only for a half day because of the rolling power, noted school superintendent Dr. Randolph Latimore, who visited the school on its first day. Ocracoke will have another half day on Friday, when Mattamuskeet School opens, he said.

“The kids were eager to get back,” noted school secretary Lisa Caswell. “They were at the door early.”

Some, like Rob Temple, owner of the Windfall II, which takes  tourists for short sails in the Pamlico Sound, are ready to take advantage of the beautiful weather.

He and his two older children will take the Windfall II for a long cruise this weekend across the sound and anchor near the mainland for a couple of days.

“It’s fun to just put up the sails and go,” he said.


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