Hurricane Irene Aftermath
September 7, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

Visitors can return to Ocracoke after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7

By Connie Leinbach

The Hyde County commissioners Tuesday night lifted the state of emergency in the county as of Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 5 p.m., allowing the return of visitors on Ocracoke Island at that time.

The decision followed discussion as to the best day for re-entry and the safety measures in place following Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27.

While that leaves the island with two means of public access via toll ferries from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island, the commissioners’ vote included a request to County Manager Mazie Smith to work on obtaining free ferry access for island residents.

“That will probably need the Secretary of Transportation to waive the fees,” said Sharon Spencer, chairman of the board.

No one knew if a waiver for residents enacted after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, when residents lost access northward via the Hatteras ferry, would still be applicable or how that was done.

About a dozen Ocracoke residents attended, including Albert O’Neal, the new ferry operations manager for Ocracoke. During the meeting, O’Neal placed a call to Harold Thomas in the NCDOT Ferry Division, who relayed that once the state of emergency is lifted, fees would go back into place.

During the emergency, the Swan Quarter and Cedar Island ferries were free for evacuees and returning business owners, residents, property owners, and essential personnel.

Brian Carter, deputy emergency services director, speaking from the meeting venue in Swan Quarter, explained that, following the destruction of infrastructure by the hurricane, safety is paramount. Tideland Electric Cooperative and Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative only Monday finished installing temporary power lines across the ocean breaches on Pea Island.

“Tideland said major erosion is still going on at that new inlet,” Carter said about the restoration of full power on Monday. “But, the infrastructure is in place and we’ve met the safety standards.”

During the public comment time, Jerry Midgett of Ocracoke said the county needs to change its strategy for re-entry of residents following an emergency.

“I’ve lived here 65 years and never had a problem until last year. This year I had to wait three days to come back.”

David Scott Esham also commented that getting residents exempt from paying ferry tolls on the paid routes (when the Hatteras Ferry is out of commission) should have been done long before this.

As for the hurricane emergency team, the commissioners had uniform praise for all county employees who put in 14- to 20-hour days during the emergency.

“I have nothing but the best praise for our emergency response team,” Spencer said. “We made a plan, we studied it, and we stuck to it. I’ve had many calls from officials all over the state and some said we set the bar.”

Smith noted that several county employees had hurricane damage but kept on working.

“They sacrificed attending to their own homes to keep working,” she said.

Emergency Services Director Justin Gibbs gave a presentation on the county’s hurricane response effort, detailing what agencies cooperated and how information was disseminated.

He said 55 homes on the mainland were flooded. Volunteer fire departments were instrumental in getting provisions to stranded county residents and informing them as events unfolded.

One aftermath of all the flooding is the increase in mosquitoes, noted Hyde County Health Officer Wesley Smith.

“We did landing counts and determined there are 20 to 40 per minute,” Smith said, adding that he will compose a letter declaring the increase in mosquitoes a health hazard.

He will use this to seek federal help to pay for aerial spraying that will target the coastland, wetlands, and protected areas. Cost of that is $840,000 and he will seek federal aid for this.

In other business, due to Hurricane Irene, the commissioners extended the current curbside trash pick-up on the mainland to December 1.

Curbside trash pick-up was scheduled to end in July, and all Hyde County residents will have to take their trash to several convenience sites, a few of which still need to be constructed. Earlier in the summer, the county manager extended the curbside pick-up for Ocracoke to Jan. 1, and that is still the case.

Clint Berry, public works director, explained thatmainland curbside pick-up was due to end Oct. 1, but destruction on the mainland  from Hurricane Irene has delayed preparing the convenience sites.

The commissioners also authorized the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association to spend $25,000 out of the Occupancy Tax Board revenues on a television marketing campaign for Ocracoke to the areas west of Hyde from Sept. 12 to Oct. 9.

“So much of our business comes from the northern routes to the island,” explained Daphne Bennink, owner of The Back Porch Restaurant, who presented the plan. “But there’s a whole different scenario of how to get here via Swan Quarter.”

Earlier in the day, the OCBA held a special meeting to approve the marketing plan. Ocracoke business owners were anxious to resume their livelihoods that had come to a screeching halt with the arrival of Hurricane Irene.

The possibility of getting the Ferry Division to modify its Cedar Island ferries to allow Ocracoke residents to go there for supplies and get back the same day was discussed.

Communication between the Ferry Division and Hyde County seems to have not been coordinated, noted Esham at this earlier meeting, because tourists wanting to stay at his motel received conflicting reports as to when the island would reopen.

Kevin Andrews, a Federal Emergency Management Agency employee, also attended the meeting to let businesses know that they can apply for low-interest loans from the Small Business Association through FEMA.

Homeowners may apply for a grant or a loan. The agency also will have a temporary office in the Ocracoke Community Center Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 8 and 9, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In related action at the OCBA meeting, Bennink asked Ocracokers to help the stricken folks on Hatteras with basic everyday items in a drive called “The Really Really Free Market.”

“A lot of people lost everything,” she said.

She will be collecting donations at the loading dock of the Back Porch.  Those items include bug spray, sunscreen, shampoo and conditioner, towels, bedding, fans, de-humidifiers, paper products, trash bags, dog and cat food, school supplies, baby items, coolers, and more.

For detailed information about what is needed, call 252-475-5758.

NOTE TO TRAVELERS:  There is no access to Hatteras Island through Ocracoke for Hatteras non-resident property owners or visitors to the island.  Non-resident property owners should keep watching Island Free Press website and the Dare County website at  Visitors will not be allowed back on Hatteras until at least Sept. 18.

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