Hurricane Irene: A reporter’s look back after a year, Part 1
By ANNE BOWERS
by Hatteras standards, Hurricane Irene, which hit the Outer Banks on
Aug. 27 of last year was a real monster of a storm that even now
continues to affect the island.
the first anniversary of the storm approached, I took a moment to
reflect by reviewing notes I kept beginning with the evacuation and
ending when the Pea Island Inlet Bridge opened about 7 weeks
later. It was an emotional read as I relived the memories of that
time. There was a lot going on and so much to report that I had
time only to write a part of what I reported or experienced.
Every aspect of Hurricane Irene took a long time.
the storm finally started to impact the lower Outer Banks after dark on
Friday, Aug. 26, residents had already had several days to
prepare. An evacuation for tourists on Hatteras was ordered for
Thursday, Aug. 25, and for residents on Friday morning, Aug. 26.
of us who stayed were calm but bored, waiting to get the storm over
with. Donny, my husband and the Island Free Press photographer,
and I drove around most of the afternoon looking for something to do --
wind for windsurfing, waves for surfing, or even a story to
report. Nothing much was happening.
had electricity for much of the night and got to watch Island Free
Press’ editor, Irene Nolan, get interviewed via phone by Greta Van
Susteren on Fox News. Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a
lot of national media attention given to the folks who choose to not
evacuate in the face of a hurricane, and Irene did a great job of
explaining why we stay. The weather worsened overnight.
Gusty winds and driving rain can make for a fitful night’s sleep.
Saturday morning, the electricity was long gone and it was time for
camping coffee, which is made by slowly pouring boiling water over
grounds in the coffeemaker. It takes a little patience, but it
our personal gas-powered generator running to keep the refrigerator
cold and a couple of lamps for our houseguests, Donny and I hit the
road to do storm reconnaissance for the Island Free Press. At
that point, there wasn’t a lot to report on. The winds were
gusting off the ocean but not super strong yet. Rain came through
in bands, which meant it either rained hard or not at all. The
eye of the storm was getting closer but still not here.
returned home for a while to wait some more and discovered our
satellite TV worked, which enabled us to get some real-time hurricane
updates. Forecasters were predicting the storm to impact the
entire Atlantic seaboard from the Outer Banks all the way up to New
England. All news stations had abandoned regular programming to
bring millions of viewers the latest updates on the storm’s progress
and evacuation orders were issued from several states.
Intermingled with all the reports were newscasters demanding that
everyone adhere to all evacuation orders, and they had unflattering
opinions for those who would defy the orders.
next trip out, the winds had increased significantly but were still out
of the east, which blew the Pamlico Sound dry. This is a huge
concern for islanders because we typically get more flood damage from
the sound, not the ocean. The easterly winds push the water west
to the other side of the sound, which is more than 30 miles away.
When the eye of the hurricane passes by, the wind usually shifts
directions dramatically, which sends the piled-up water rushing quickly
back across the sound and causes horrific flooding. This wasn’t a
spite of this warning of things to come, islanders were out and
about. People were snapping pictures and taking videos.
There was some cell phone signal on the island, and folks were using
their technology to upload images and information to Facebook to
share. There were people shelling and scavenger hunting in the
waterless sound bed.
has experienced every storm since he moved here in 1966, and he kept
watching the wind direction to judge the storm’s movement. It continued
to stay easterly. As the day wore on, the skies got darker, the
rains heavier and more frequent, and the winds got stronger.
Before dark, we took one more trip staying away from areas prone to
this point, Hatteras had been in the hurricane for almost 24 hours and
the worst was still ahead of us. Hurricane forecasters had
delivered a troublesome forecast a couple of days earlier, predicting
that this was the big one and to expect multiple inlets. Was this
our last look at our island as we knew it? So far, the dunes had
done their job and held most of the ocean back. But, the wind had
started to switch more southerly. If the winds went due west
quickly, we were in for some real trouble from the rapidly returning
sound waters. But a slow shift in the wind direction might be our
evening was rather pleasant as we rejoined our house guests who had
evacuated to our home, which is high and dry by island standards.
We enjoyed sandwiches and wine by the glow of the lamps, powered by the
noisy generator that ran outside. On TV, weathermen continued to
track the storm’s progress and we endured the newscasters who called us
stupid for staying in the path of this powerful storm. I was able
to get on Facebook with my cell phone and saw disturbing photos of the
Colington Fire Department up the beach with its furniture floating
inside the building. We then knew the soundside flooding had
charged our cells phones, laptop computer, flashlights, and camera
batteries by the generator before we turned it off for a second night
of restless sleep as our barricaded house kept us safe from the
powerful tropical cyclone that churned loudly outside for most of the
came early, and I made another delicious pot of camping coffee.
It was still dark outside as we strained our eyes to see if our house
was surrounded by water. Our canal had flooded 75 feet towards
our house, but, basically, we were high and almost dry. The first
light revealed a lot of tree debris but nothing catastrophic. The
wind noise had stopped just an hour or two earlier. We took to the
highway to see how the island had fared.
really wasn’t much to report on in Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras.
There was sound water on Highway 12 and there were indicators that the
water levels in Frisco were about 2 to 3 feet high.
high-water mark on my business building in Frisco was about the same as
Hurricane Earl in 2011. Parts of Brigands’ Bay were still
underwater and not passable. Further south, we traveled through
the area where Hurricane Isabel had cut through Highway 12 in 2003, and
the dunes didn’t completely hold. The road was passable with
four-wheel drive, and as the road crews quickly worked to clear the
sand, it was evident that the road surface was mostly unaffected.
like we had escaped the big one, we visited a friend in Hatteras who
sat out in his yard reading his Bible and talking about the beautiful
blue sky. In a moment of thankfulness, we reveled in our
luck. With all the technology in the world, we sat alone on our
island in bliss -- unconnected, totally unaware how bad our neighbors
in Avon, Waves, Salvo and Rodanthe had it.
worked our way back to the north and saw that Buxton had its usual post
hurricane problems and at first glance, the most noticeable damage in
Avon was the blown over canopy at the BP Station at Askins Creek.
However, news of the inlets was spreading and we wanted to investigate.
drove a little north of Avon on a road that was too sandy and still
underwater. Our gas tank was low, so we opted to go home and
start fresh in the morning. At some point, we turned on the radio
to a local station and learned lots from Dare County residents who
called in with their eyewitness reports.
Maybe we hadn’t dodged the bullet.
were close to home when we saw something that stopped us in our
tracks. The National Guard had arrived in great numbers and was
unloading supplies at the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad in Buxton.
Seeing the large group of men and women in military uniform moving
large amounts of food and water, tarps, and medical supplies, was
our first personal experience in how bad the situation was. A
quick interview with incident commander Bob Helle confirmed it.
northern villages were hardest hit and would receive the majority of
the supplies. Highway 12 was completely impassable and an
emergency ferry would start bringing supplies from Stumpy Point into
Rodanthe. Transportation on and off the island was not possible
and an emergency medical team was flown in to help islanders since
our local doctors were unable to get back on the island.
that moment, everything changed as I realized again that this was no
ordinary hurricane. It would be a long time before life would be
back to normal. There would be no reason to reopen my business,
even though there was very little damage done to the building.
went home to work on his pictures with the help of our generator while
I visited Irene Nolan at her house to report what I knew. We developed
a plan to cover the storm. With no communications on the island,
it was important to do our best to report what we knew. Without
electricity, it may not be read by people who didn’t evacuate, but it
was important for those who left to know how the island was doing from
people who stayed.
went home and my little laptop worked well off the generator. I
wrote a short article about what I had seen during the day and what I
heard from Bob Helle. We finished our work by midnight and drove
to Buxton to the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative that miraculously
had a working wi-fi signal. In the dark parking lot and in the
cool comfort of my truck, I e-mailed my unedited story and Donny’s
pictures to Donna Barnett, Island Free Press graphic designer and
webmaster, who had evacuated to Raleigh, N.C., with her computer so she
could keep the news going. This is how the newspaper published
articles for the first few days directly following the storm.
sunrise, Donny and I were standing by the breach at Mirlo Beach in
Rodanthe. This is where we would spend the next few weeks.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to read more Island Free Press articles on Hurricane Irene.