July 3, 2014

Ocracoke group second-guesses voluntary evacuation


 The Ocracoke Control Group for weather emergencies began making preparations today to brace for Tropical Storm Arthur’s arrival.

It’s a last-minute action because of the voluntary, not mandatory, evacuation.
Darlene Styron, a former county commissioner and owner of the Sweet Tooth, said that while she was commissioner, the county worked on a hurricane plan and that the local control group should have met days before today -- the day Arthur is expected to approach the island.
“We don’t want another Alex,” she said, referring to the 2004 storm that took the island by surprise with soundside flooding that destroyed more than 300 cars.

The biggest issue is the estimated 9,000 visitors still on the island and dealing with aftermath contingencies.  Is there enough food? What if the power goes out for a sustained period of time? What about medical care if people are injured?

Hyde County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for Hyde County and issued a voluntary evacuation order.

“But what does that mean?” asked E.J. Carpino of Raleigh on Wednesday while he waited in the Variety Store parking lot. “I’ve been in earthquakes and tornadoes, and I don’t want my car to flood.”  He said he and his wife would leave today.

Emergency Services director Justin Gibbs, speaking via speakerphone from the mainland, told the group of about 10 officials and business owners Thursday morning that his biggest concern is road washout at the north end of the island thereby preventing people from leaving after the storm and the possible loss of power.

“How are we going to get all these people of the island?” Gibbs asked.  “It’s too late to declare a mandatory evacuation. The (Tideland) generator is not an option.”

Jason Daniels, Sheriff's Department deputy sergeant, advocated for an evening curfew for safety reasons.  A curfew will be in effect from 8 p.m. today until 8 a.m. tomorrow.

“All these people are asking, ‘Where’s the hurricane party,’ " he said.  He also advocated alcohol sales restrictions.  An alcohol sales ban is in effect at 5 p.m. today.

Cheryl Ballance, CEO of the Ocracoke Health Center, noted the need for a cadre of pre-certified medical professionals to be on stand-by in case there’s a need on the island for mass medical care.

“They should have met with us before the county commissioners met,” noted David Scott Esham, owner of the Pony Island Motel.

Dare County ordered a mandatory evacuation on Wednesday. That means that Highway 12 near Whalebone Junction will be closed to vehicles preventing people from coming to Ocracoke, which is still open.

Contacted at his home, County Commissioner John Fletcher, who represents Ocracoke, said he advocated for the voluntary evacuation because “if you declare a mandatory evacuation on the biggest week of the year, then you have to lift it and stage re-entry.”

People know the risk from all the talk on the television, he said.

“They can make up their own minds,” he added.

He said the strongest winds of this storm will be on the eastern side of it or out to sea.

“We’re 13 to 14 miles west of Hatteras,” he said. “So, if (Arthur) skirts Hatteras, it’s still far off from us.”

As for food, he said there’s enough food on this island to feed all the remaining tourists and residents for a week.  He also doesn’t think Ocracoke needs a curfew. Some of the big businesses on the island have generators and could be open feeding people, but not if there’s a curfew, he said.

“That’s just government interference we don’t need,” he said.

The only thing he’s worried about is flooding from the soundside.

“Soundside flooding doesn’t imperil human life,” he said. “Therefore, the voluntary evacuation.”

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