Hurricane Irene Aftermath
September 5, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

First day of resident re-entry by ferry was uneventful – second day not so good


Sunday, Sept. 4, marked the beginning for residents who evacuated before Hurricane Irene to be able to return to their homes on Hatteras Island.

Dare County Government had no real data –only educated guesses -- on how many vehicles left the island.  Our officials anticipated problems if restrictions were totally lifted at once and devised a plan that allowed people back by village and in alphabetical order by last name.

Sunday was Buxton’s scheduled day, Hatteras Village was Monday, and Frisco on Tuesday.  At that time, there was no plan to allow resident homeowners back for the more damaged towns of Avon, Salvo, Waves and Rodanthe.

Sunday’s re-entry from Stumpy Point was smooth and uneventful, unlike today when damage to the only ramp at the three-slip ferry docks put the route out of commission, perhaps up to 24 hours.

Ferry Division and Dare County officials hope the ferry will be repaired and running again with returning residents tomorrow.

On Sunday morning, the 7:30 a.m. ferry ride from Rodanthe to Stumpy Point was the second one of the morning after the travel ban for residents was lifted.  There were no cars on the ferry named Stan White, which can carry up to 40 vehicles. 

Its only passengers were a couple and their two dogs heading off the island for the first time since the storm hit, hoping to make a doctor’s appointment and to replace their car, which was lost in soundside flooding.  They were meeting a family member who was waiting at Stumpy Point for them.

During the two-hour ride west through slick-calm water, three other ferry boats were seen transporting both commercial and residential vehicles to Hatteras Island, two headed for Rodanthe and one for Hatteras Village.  The first two boats were full, but not the third.

Once we docked at Stumpy Point, only three vehicles were waiting in line to catch the Stan White.  The check point located further down the road was manned with both state and local law enforcement officials.  There was no line here either. 

A man who owns and operates a restaurant in Avon with a house in Buxton was turned away because his driver’s license said Kill Devil Hills.  The state trooper was unwavering to the man’s situation.  The rules were the rules.

There were no other vehicles, no line, and no chaos.  Nothing.

Back at the ferry, marina electrician Larry Smith commented that, “I wouldn’t have expected that everyone would have shown up as per the county’s schedule.”  He was complimentary of how well all the agencies worked together to devise a clever but practical plan.

A call was made to the staging area about a mile away, and the person on the other side of the radio said there were only two cars waiting which were quickly cleared and allowed to board.

In all, only nine cars and one supply van loaded on the ferry, which left with less than 25 percent capacity.

Ferry shift supervisor, Tom Stagg, agreed that “The day has been very organized to a lot of people’s surprise.”

He also wondered if the fact that it was Sunday may have been a factor because commercial deliveries like the postal service and UPS don’t work on the weekend.

“People have been patient with us,” Stagg continued.  “We’re just trying to get people home.

Ten-year veteran ferry marine mechanic, Buddy Poythress, was compassionate about the plight of the evacuees who had been unable to get home for ten days.  “I feel for these people, but we have to consider their safety – both on the ferry and on land.”

However, only a couple hours into the loosening of the re-entry rules, there just weren’t a lot of people.

Chris from Buxton, who didn’t want his last name used, was one of the few residents heading home.

“We didn’t want to leave, but we didn’t want to stay,” Chris says.

He and his wife approached the mandatory evacuation as a vacation.  They picked Charlottesville, Va., because they knew that area had a lot of things to do and offered some culture.  They spent some time in the mountains near there.

“Had the best barbecue I had eaten in a long time,” Chris reminisced about last week.

They had planned for a few days away, not 10 days.  Their funds ran low, and the couple traveled north to stay with family until the county said they could return home. 

In the end, there were very excited to be so close to home.  Chris missed being home, which was undamaged in the hurricane.

Ferry employee, Maxine Gray of Avon, was also traveling home by permit because she was needed to be back at work for the ferry system on Tuesday.  She and her boyfriend, Bill Simmons, had spent a week and a half in Virginia Beach with Bill’s family.  They had their cat and dog and a truck filled with supplies and gasoline.

Both islanders glanced at the meager amount of cars on the ferry and Maxine said, “I thought there would be a lot of people on the ferry.”

Both were very eager to get back to their own homes.  Maxine’s house, which was elevated following the damaging floods of Hurricane Emily in 1993, had no damage that she was aware of.  But on a personal level, she is feeling the effects of lost wages from missing a week’s worth of work.

Bill’s older but newly renovated house is very damaged, and he was told it had three to four feet inside the structure.

“Whatever happened, happened.  Why get mad about it,” Bill calmly stated, even though he wasn’t anxious to see everything the had recently done to the house ruined.

Christine Medlin, 85 and traveling alone, “They said ‘leave’ so I left.  I was never afraid but I followed the advice of the experts.  But, I won’t leave again.”

Christine’s husband stayed in Buxton while she heeded the evacuation order and traveled to Rocky Mount, N.C., to wait out Hurricane Irene in a motel.  She was planning to be gone only for a couple of days, and when it became apparent that she would be unable to come home for an extended period of time, when she relocated to Tarboro, N.C., where she stayed with a friend.

Ferry boat worker, Ted Midgett of Stumpy Point commented, “About 80 percent of the people I’ve spoken with said they will not leave again for the next hurricane.”

It was a near flawless ferry ride home until the boat had to wait for an hour because there was another ferry at the dock in Rodanthe.  The ferry captain announced on the speaker system that the narrow channel near the island was only wide enough to handle one boat at a time.  It would be another hour and a half before the Stan White would dock.

The jovial mood quickly soured, and the once patient people grumbled and complained.  They had managed to survive the last 10 days of being displaced but another hour or more was just too much to bear.

The ferry engines idled in the sound with nothing else to do but wait for the channel to clear.  A Coast Guard boat came near while it worked to make sure the channel markers were in the right places.

In time, the ferry docked but was met with one more delay.  The electric powered ramp which is lowered for cars to drive on to the higher ramp would not work.  The ground crew scrambled and discovered that the power was off again in the village.

The generator dedicated to powering the temporary dock was started with a plume of smoke and bright yellow electric cords run to power the lift.  This was the final delay.  When the ramp finally bridged the gap between land and sea, all the vehicles cleared the decks of the Stan White and people scurried home and back to their lives.

This morning on Facebook, there were dozens of joyous comments about “Home Sweet Home.”   In this age of social media, we no longer need Dorothy to tell us that there is no place like home.

Dare County public health nurse, Cid Cousey, observed that, “For the next storm, the people who stayed will evacuate and those who just evacuated will stay.”


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