Milestones:  Remembering hurricanes Emily and Isabel
August 2, 2013

Hurricane Isabel divides the island, but unites the community


(Editor's note:  Twelve years ago this week -- on Sept. 18, 2003 -- Hurricane Isabel roared ashore south of Hatteras Island.  The huge waves and storm surge with the hurricane cut a new inlet between the villages of Frisco and Hatteras.  This is the story about how the entire island community came together to weather the storm.)

On a sunny and sultry Wednesday morning, less than a week after it was devastated by storm surge and powerful waves from Hurricane Isabel, Hatteras village was alive with activity.

Boats, operated mostly by volunteers, were coming and going from Oden’s Dock, delivering more volunteers to help with cleanup and much needed supplies.  The headboat, Miss Virginia Dare, arrived from Manteo, full of all kinds of donated food, cleaning supplies, and other goods that villagers needed.  The ferries were running twice a day on the 3 hour-45 minute run from Stumpy Point with heavy equipment needed to repair the infrastructure and other supplies. 

Helicopters and planes buzzed overhead, and National Guardsmen, Dare County sheriff’s officers, and state marine fisheries officials maintained order. 

Power had been restored, but restoring the water was more problematic.  However, there was a solution for that also, so that the villagers cleaning up after the storm and the workers on the island could wash off the sweat of a day’s work.  There are portable showers available at the parking lots of East Carolina Bank and the Hatterasman restaurant.  At the Hatterasman, a brightly decorated semi-trailer, the "Porta Kleen," is definitely the preference for most women.  The shower stalls inside are roomier with an outside stall to hang clothes and an inside stall for showering.   
The area in the heart of the village — at the Community Center and Volunteer Fire Department — is the center of all activity.  It was there that the Salvation Army set up a mobile kitchen that was turning out hundreds of meals a day just two days after the storm.  It was there that villagers got information about power, water, cleanup, and disaster aid, and that volunteers received their marching orders.

Islanders north of the new inlet were lined up at the Frisco Cove Marina to help their neighbors to the south in the area some were calling "Little Hatteras Island."

"They would come here and help us if things were reversed," said volunteer Natalie Perry of Frisco.

Margie Easley is coordinating the volunteer effort in Hatteras village.  She earned her stripes doing relief work after hurricanes Emily and Dennis, so she knew the ropes.  The operation is a well-oiled machine.

The week after Isabel, a table with three volunteer workers was set up in front of the Community Center and fire department.  It was manned by three volunteer workers who took information from volunteers and gave them their assignments.   

"People coming here to work need to check in and we will send them to a job," Easley said.  "So far, most of the volunteers have been from Frisco and Buxton."

Volunteers were being transported to Hatteras village by boat.  People volunteered their boats, and others helped out by driving them.  Boats ran continuously between Frisco Cove Marina and Oden’s Dock in Hatteras.  These boats became the lifeline of the stranded village.  They transported village residents returning home after the evacuation, as well as volunteers.  Vital supplies, prescriptions, and donated items traveled to Hatteras with the helpers.

Once at Oden’s Dock, all boats and volunteers had to clear the official "roadblock" of police, whose job it was to keep sightseers and others who would hamper the cleanup effort out of the village.  For the first few days, Hatteras was crowded with folks from all over who came to check on friends or family and see the island’s newest inlet.  However, with limited power and food and no water, officials soon began to crack down on people who could enter the village. 

Transportation from Oden’s Dock was provided by more volunteers, using their own vehicles.  The workers were directed to the Community Center.  Supplies were carried off to where they were needed.

"Everybody needs to check in, not just go off to help friends or families," stressed Margie Easley.  "We have to document everything.  When you have this many homes destroyed, future grants depends on us knowing how much it really cost.  It helps the people who may fall through the cracks — when insurance isn’t enough."

Initially, removing wet carpet was the biggest chore for the volunteer workers.  Cutting downed trees and collecting debris and ruined furniture and moving it to the edge of the road was also important.  When work crews were finished with an assignment, they would go back to Community Center and get their next assignment.

In addition to coordinating the work crews, the front table is a place to gather a wealth of information.  Several handouts were available, providing important information to residents.  Health advisories were clear on drinking water, the significance of washing hands often, of wearing sturdy and protective footwear, protecting yourself from mosquitoes, and getting tetanus shots, which were free and available at HealthEast Family Care in the village.

Against the brick retaining wall is a large bulletin board.  FEMA’s toll-free number was prominent.  Folks needing prescription requests had a phone number to call.  The Command Center had its number posted for people with transportation needs, phone outages, electricity concerns, and even those who needed shelter.  There were also basic updates on when school would resume for the children, the roads would be repaired, and water service would be restored.

The front table at the Community Center was being run by Cindy O’Neal with three volunteers, who were answering questions and keeping track of what was needed and who needed help next.  Patti Robinson, Andrea Kobylinski, and Trish Dempsey all work together at Cape Hatteras schools.  For a few days, they worked together helping people help people.

They were excited that four bicycles had been donated by Hotline.  The women were also spreading the word that veterinarian Mark Grossman would be in the village soon to check out the pets.  Eleven generators had been sent by a church in Buxton.  It was all news that needed to get out.

All in all, the mood of these women was cheery and upbeat.

"A sense of humor is good," offered Andrea.

"Yeah, but I want it to be normal," said Trish.  "I want it to go back."

Behind the volunteer’s table was the Community Center Canteen.  Maj.  Jerry Lyles of the Salvation Army was coordinating meals for residents, workers, and volunteers.
"We do three hot meals a day," said Lyles.  "Monday we served 1,200 meals and Tuesday 1,000.  The supplies came from Greenville — two trailer loads of food and drink, most of it donated."   

Many of the local restaurants contributed to feeding everyone.  Everyone agreed that they were good meals, too.  Surf and turf was on the menu board one night.  One resident giggled that she had Crème Brulee for dessert the previous evening.

Inside the canteen area was a mass of personal hygiene products.  There seemed to be cases of shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, deodorant.  A delivery of comfort kits was arriving from the Red Cross — unisex, of course. 

The most sought after hygiene item was Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer.   Without running water to shower with or even wash hands, officials fear the outbreak of infectious diseases.  A bottle was being passed around the canteen for folks to clean up before lunch.  One woman had a mini bottle of Purell attached to a long key chain around her neck.

"It’s the latest fashion for the island," she noted with a laugh.

There were signs taped everywhere, all of them important.

"Free Daycare.  Kids of all ages.  United Methodist PreSchool."

"Need to talk to someone?  We can help!  Stephen Ministers of the Hatteras Methodist Charge will be glad to listen to anyone who is feeling the burden of Hurricane Isabel aftermath or just needs to let out their frustration."

Upstairs at the Hatteras fire station is the Hatteras village office of the county Emergency Operations Committee, which was being staffed by Merry Sue Foster and Donna Peele. 

The office overlooks Highway 12, which was always a beehive of activity.  The opened windows had been dubbed "the holler hole."  It didn’t take long to figure that one out.
"Hey Donna," someone hollered from the street.

Donna knelt in front of the window and asked what they wanted.

"I need to go to ground zero.  Will you clear me through the checkpoint?"

Donna got on her walkie talkie to the checkpoint at the eastern, most devastated area of the village and gave authorization for that person to get through the checkpoint, which was manned by National Guard personnel.

Donna explained that she was in charge of "finding everything.  Plus we give donation information, dispense work crews."

The phone rang, and someone from Stumpy Point area was sending 20 bicycles over to the island.  Details were worked out on how to do this.  Bicycles are a big deal.  Because of road conditions and a shortage of fuel, returning residents were not allowed to bring their vehicles.

The building inspector ducked in briefly saying, "Got you one more condemnation." He handed over the papers, and the information was processed immediately.

Another person stopped in and explained that a resident who lived around the corner really needed some chocolate Ensure.  Donna got on the phone and called around until she found some.  She instructed the person to take it to Scotch Bonnet Marina, and it would get here.

A problem arose with pumping out the portable potties.  They needed more 2-inch hose.  That crisis was solved somehow but not with 2-inch hose because there was none.  It wasn’t clear how it got done, but it was like watching a magic show that made problems disappear.

The walkie-talkie squawked to life, and Donna was asked about the status of a helicopter.  Efficiently, she found the information and squawked him back.

The Farm Bureau Insurance people came in.

"We are glad to see you," Donna chirped.  "Guess you need passes to ground zero."

There was a little buzz that Jimmy Buffett was coming to Hatteras village.  However, it was Jimmy Buffett’s seaplane, loaded with supplies, that was waiting at the airport in Manteo for clearance to fly to here.  Donna was on top of that issue, too.  Because of the debris in the sound, it turned out to be too risky for the seaplane to land in front of the breakwater at Oden’s Dock.  The seaplane landed at Billy Mitchell Airport in Frisco, where the supplies were off-loaded and sent to Frisco Cove Marina for transport.

An electrician was needed at a residence, so power could be restored.  This issue took Donna a little time, but she located Trent Clark on the other side.  He was quickly on his way to catch a ride at the marina in Frisco.

Margie Easley stopped in for a minute to find her sandwich and to say, "We are taking requests for heavy equipment."

It was a short walk back to Oden’s Dock.  Burrus Red and White Supermarket was open, as was Nedo’s store, which had a sign posted, "FREE ICE."  The path to the dock leads past a set of portable toilets and a lone trash truck, which was parked.  Nothing smelled real good.

Back at the dock, there was a small group of people waiting for a boat shuttle back to Frisco.  Volunteers were told to leave by 5 p.m.  Because of the danger of hazards in the water from the storm, the boats were running only in daylight.  A skiff docked, unloading a group of people along with a case of chocolate Ensure.  It wasn’t long before the boat was reloaded and headed back to Frisco.

Back on the other side, people want to help in any way they can.  Laundry is a big issue when have no water.  Some people returned with dirty laundry from their friends and family.  Others send up their laundry knowing that there are people waiting to do it for anyone who needs it.  It arrived in black plastic trash bags with a name label on the outside.  Most of it was returned the following morning.

"We have a list of people who are willing to do laundry," said Cindy Repenning of Frisco Cove Marina.  "Really, we haven’t done that terribly much.  Some people are embarrassed to have a stranger see their dirty clothes."

Some people are using their business to help make money for the Hatteras Relief effort.  Dhanyo Merillat-Bowers of Therapeutic Massage in Buxton is offering 10 percent of her proceeds to raise money for those who need it.  The United Methodist Men will distribute the funds.

"What I am doing is nothing compared to what others are doing," she says. "People get debilitated.  The community needs to help."

The cutest approach to helping the folks of Hatteras Village was an old-fashioned lemonade stand.  Ashley Burrus, 11, and her sister Adrian Burrus, 9, set up their stand in front of their home in Buxton.  According to the girls’ mother, Renee Burrus, the girls wanted to do something to help two friends who had lost everything in the storm surge.
"It was spur of the moment," said Renee Burrus.  "We raised a lot of money."

Along with their friends Avery Hooper, Rachel McDaniel, Paxton Gwin, and Brianna Price, the girls raised $475 to help their Hatteras friends.

"They did the whole project themselves," offered their mom.

Two days later, the six girls enlisted the help of three more friends and held a bake sale at Conner’s Supermarket in Buxton.  They raised $1,300 at the bake sale.

"They did it out of the goodness of their hearts," Renee said.  "They wanted to help their friends."

Disasters such as Hurricane Isabel break down more than property and buildings.  They also break down the barriers that sometimes divide people.  Because of Isabel, all of us are on the same side, fighting the same fight: food, water, shelter.  For now, we are divided only by water.

(This article was first published in the October 2003 Special Report on Hurricane Isabel in The Island Breeze.)

comments powered by Disqus