Milestones:  Remembering hurricanes Emily and Isabel
August 2, 2013

One year after the storm:  The Alex surprise


In August of 2004, I was working on stories about how Hatteras was faring one year after Hurricane Isabel, which made landfall near Ocracoke Inlet on Sept. 18. The hurricane’s devastating storm surge created a new inlet between Frisco and Hatteras village and destroyed homes and businesses.

None of us counted on the surprise storm -- Hurricane Alex, which arrived rather unexpectedly on Aug. 3. 

Though Alex was nowhere near as catastrophic as Isabel, it brought its own set of problems and caught even residents off guard. 

It did not become a tropical storm until Sunday afternoon, Aug. 1.  Rain and wind but little else was expected on the Outer Banks.  By late Monday, forecasters said some strengthening was possible.  We awoke Tuesday morning to learn that the storm was a Category 1 hurricane.  By the time it passed within 15 miles of Cape Hatteras at 1 p.m., it was a Category 2.

Sustained winds of 75 to 80 mph were recorded at various sites on the islands, with gusts of up to 120 at the Ocracoke ferry terminal.

When the wind shifted to the northwest, the sound tide began surging onto Hatteras and Ocracoke.  According to the National Weather Service at Newport, the storm surge was 4 to 6 feet from Buxton to Ocracoke.

There was no evacuation, so islanders and visitors lost vehicles to the sound tide — probably as many as 700.  Rain, wind and tide damaged homes and buildings.  Debris from the sound covered streets and yards.

Many of the folks who were devastated by Isabel and still trying to recover from physical and financial losses were slapped again by Alex.

One of the hardest hit was the Sandbar and Grille.  The restaurant on the eastern edge of Hatteras village was destroyed by Isabel’s ocean surge last year.  Owners John and Jane Metacarpa relocated to Buxton and re-opened in early spring.  Business was better than ever in the new location — until Alex.

Though they didn’t get sound tide in the lower level, the upstairs dining room overlooking the sound was devastated by wind and rain.  Part of the roof blew off, three large windows blew out, doors blew off hinges, ceiling tiles fell down, water soaked the walls, insulation and carpets. 

The Metacarpas had to close down for almost three weeks and gut the inside.  They still have not settled with their insurers from their Isabel loss, and now they had a new set of insurance hassles — and another loss of business.  And their staff of 25 was unemployed during the height of the tourist season.

"I guess this will be the comeback from the comeback," Jane said the week after Alex.  "It’s been a nightmare, but I try to laugh about it a little bit."

Others who were struggling back from Isabel were dealt another blow by Alex.

Beach Pharmacy, Creative Ballance and Village Video, which share a building, had several inches of water in the shops.  Sandy Bay Gallery and Izabelle’s Closet, which were devastated in Isabel and had re-opened in the spring, also had sound tide.  Oden’s Dock suffered more damage in Alex. However, all have dealt with clean-up and are open.

Then there are businesses, such as Sea Weeds, a garden shop and antiques store on N.C. 12 in Frisco, that wase untouched by Isabel but damaged by Alex. The week after Alex, owner Becky Marlin had a sign hanging on the fence of the garden shop that said, "Sea Weeds Garden Shop has a fine selection of plants — most of them DEAD."  The sign at the door to the antiques and gift shop read, "Come in and browse our mud-encrusted gifts and antiques." 

Hurricane Alex certainly added to the woes of homeowners and businesses on Hatteras and Ocracoke.  However, the storm did bestow a few gifts.

The Hatteras Civic Center, destroyed by Isabel, had no storm tide from Alex.  Its renovation is on schedule, and the building should be ready for the annual Hatteras Village Surf Fishing Tournament in September.
The Sea Gull Motel on the oceanfront in Hatteras village was almost totaled by Isabel.  The Oden family, which owns the motel, is nearly finished rebuilding the one section of the motel that was not demolished. They hope to open it soon. 

When Isabel’s ocean waves surged through the property, they took about everything in their path, including two double-wide Adirondack chairs that had been at the motel since it was opened almost 50 years ago.  The chairs, along with all kinds of other debris in the village, were washed into the marsh on the back side of the island.

Then came Alex with its storm surge from the Pamlico Sound and through the marsh.
And back came one of the two Adirondack chairs.  It was swept back onto the Sea Gull property within about 10 or 15 feet of where it had been sitting on a porch last Sept. 18.

Two villagers reported that music CDs, which had been swept into the marsh, were washed back into their yards by Alex.  And the sign from the Pelican’s Roost tackle shop was swept back near the property.

(Portions of this article were first published in the September 2004 issue of The Island Breeze.)

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