October 31, 2012

Sandy has moved the sand on Hatteras Island


Signs of normalcy began to appear today around the villages of Hatteras Island as floodwaters began to recede when Superstorm Sandy moved north of the region.

Many awakened this morning to less water in their yards, weakening winds, and blue skies.  After being cooped up inside for days, people were eager to move about the villages to see what havoc Sandy had wreaked on the island.  More of the island was accessible today because the roads had dried out a lot and the North Carolina Department of Transportation cleared two major problems on Highway 12 in the southern villages.

Ocean overwash had collapsed the dunes between Hatteras and Frisco, covering the road with lots of sand.  The road had been passable for the last couple of days at low tide to those with four-wheel drives.  With the storm moving away, DOT closed this section of road this morning so road crews could work uninterrupted to push the sand off the road.

The north end of Buxton battled the ocean for days, and at times, the storm surge flowed heavily through the motels, stopping traffic.  Travel had been difficult through this area for a couple of days.  Crews worked for hours today on clearing the road, making it passable for all vehicles.

The Buxton oceanfront got beat up from the angry seas kicked up by what was Hurricane Sandy.  Most of the dunes from the Cape Hatteras Motel to the lighthouse were leveled.  With nothing to block the huge waves, many houses sustained minor to major damage.  Side streets were covered with shin- to thigh-high water and there was storm debris everywhere you looked --pieces of asphalt, wood pilings, stair treads, pieces of decks, and boardwalks, too.

The old lighthouse site was also a mess.  The power of the water was quickly evident looking at the circle of engraved granite pieces that designated where the old lighthouse sat until 1999.  These heavy pieces had been lifted and moved around and now sit in disarray.

Old bricks were strewn around, probably remnants of the old lighthouse foundation that was buried here.

In between the mess, fathers fished with their sons and young men surfed the jetty.  Many walked around in their waterproof boots, surveying the post-storm scene, enjoying the cool and breezy but sunny day.

Hatteras village also suffered some loss of dunes.  The Flambeau Road shipwreck exposed her bones again as a result of the storm.  For those who have never seen this 200-foot relic, tomorrow might be a good day to check it out.

But not all was happy with the villagers.  Cell phone service had been spotty all day and even worse, the Internet was down for most.  The cable in Rodanthe had been severed, but not all the way through, which meant some had Internet but most did not.

People were hungry for information.  Most folks were getting information by word of mouth, and there were a lot of serious topics in people’s minds -- the condition of the Bonner Bridge, the condition of Highway 12 north of Rodanthe, the status of the emergency ferry, and so forth.

Once the road was cleared at Buxton, my husband, Donny, and I finally drove north for a far as we could.  There was still some water on the highway in Avon, mostly from overflowing ditches.  The Food Lion was open, as were some restaurants.  

Continuing north, the road to the tri-villages was basically clear.  There was high water in the ditches, which occasionally overflowed.  The ocean had washed sand over a section of road at Ramp 30, which will need to be cleared.

Once in the villages, there were several areas that were covered in water, including Wind over Waves, Kitty Hawk Kites, Lisa’s Pizza, the post office, and around the area where Jo Bob’s operated until Hurricane Irene decimated the building last August.

Then we drove around the corner and were overwhelmed with the awful feeling that we had stepped back in time to August and September 2011 when this area was ravaged by Hurricane Irene.

To the left, there was a line of cars that stretched out to the road, waiting for the emergency ferry that would take them off the island.  It would be a one-way ride for visitors.  Only residents, off-island property owners, employees of island businesses, and supplies and equipment needed to repair the road are allowed to make the trip back from Stumpy Point.

Beyond the law enforcement roadblock, we could see that this section of Highway that runs through Mirlo Beach was covered in sand.  In the distance was a large section of broken asphalt, looking like old-fashion ribbon candy.  The road will take some time and manpower to repair.  The good news is that the sandbags held the ocean back and there was no inlet like the year before.

On the oceanfront at Mirlo Beach, there was another house gone, taken by Sandy.  It was the second house from the end.  There was almost no debris anywhere from the fallen structure.  A broken mirror, a blue metal bed frame, and a few twisted pilings that were about knee-high were the only evidence that a house even existed here.

Its neighbor, Wave Breaker, appears to be in jeopardy, too.  Every piling on the house was leaning seriously to the south and the structure didn’t look stable on top of them.  Making matters worse, the structure was creaking.

From this point, Donny and I caught a ride with the Chicamacomico Banks Volunteer Fire Department as they drove north to investigate the viability of creating a temporary four-wheel-drive only road.  The department has a six-wheel truck called that can navigate just about anything.

“If push came to shove, we need to know if we can get off the island this way,” said Larry Grubbs, captain of the department.

Donny and I climbed up into the back of this supersized truck with Greg Anderson, a volunteer in the department, to see what was beyond Mirlo Beach.

Skirting the broken road was not a problem.  It was clear driving for about a half a mile when we encountered the first section of broken dune that had washed out the road towards the sound.  There was a substantial amount of dune missing, and the driving was difficult.

There were several more sections of flattened dunes as we made our way to the temporary bridge at the Pea Island Inlet, which was created last year by Hurricane Irene.  There were areas of road still wet with standing water.  Cormorants had taken over the road, and Larry took great care to avoid hitting every one of them.  It was slow going.

At the temporary bridge, the southbound lane was undermined, but the northbound lane was fine.  The inlet itself was much different than before the storm.  It was wider than it had been and both the north and south shorelines were straight and completely parallel to each other.  It looked deeper, and water flowed freely from the sound to the ocean.  Gone was the delta that had formed at the west side of the bridge.

Things got very interesting north of here.  From about the Pea Island Visitors Center, the protective ocean dunes were gone.  For miles, the sand from the dunes covered the road and into the wetlands.  Here and there, tiny little dunes remained, but that was it.  The landscape looked barren and flat.  Travel was slow and bumpy.

The road was probably intact under the massive amount of sand because there was no evidence of broken asphalt, but it was going to take a lot of bulldozer hours to find it.

Our trip stopped about a mile or two south of the Oregon Inlet Bridge when we saw heavy equipment in the distance working south of the old U.S.Life-Saving Station at Oregon Inlet. 

DOT left the equipment south of the bridge in advance of Superstorm Sandy.

It was a long and chilly trip back to Rodanthe in the back of the mammoth truck.  Clouds had formed, blocking the sun’s last warm rays of the day.  It was sad seeing the oceanfront houses for the first time from this direction.  The Black Pearl stood tall, but some of its neighbors were rather beaten up or missing.

During the last couple of days, people have tried to compare Sandy to other storms.  There has been a lot of comparing and contrasting to last year’s storm, Hurricane Irene.  Then there was Hurricane Noel in 2007, the November storm of 2008, and also a northeaster in 1973.

After I spent the last couple of days traveling around Hatteras Island and seeing seen what Sandy has done since Saturday, I believe this storm will stand on its own accord.  Sandy has made her own historic impression on the island that will live in our memories for some time to come.


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