July 7, 2014

Tri-villages struggle to get Arthur's mess cleaned
up, even as visitors return...WITH SLIDE SHOW


It was the sour fish-bowl smell in the air that made it obvious that Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo did not escape the wrath of Hurricane Arthur.

While most of the Outer Banks, except the Manteo waterfront, fared better than expected, the tri-villages suffered substantial sound tide that flooded homes and businesses, leaving residents and merchants devoting the July Fourth holiday weekend to cleanup chores.

Resident of the southern villages on Hatteras Island, spared the worst of the high water the storm had threatened, breathed a sigh relief, but it wasn't so in the tri-villages. 

As Arthur moved north at about 4 a.m. Friday, the sound quickly rose as high as five feet in the tri-villages and receded nearly as quickly.

But it was long enough to ruin the contents of many homes and businesses from Salvo to Mirlo Beach. Gardens filled with ripe produce and blooming flowers were also wiped out.  A cemetery along the highway, left trashed and in disarray by the tide, was ignored while people worked to wipe up more pressing concerns. 

“Everything in here was wet,” said Denise Lane, sitting on her sofa while several de-humidifiers roared in the background. “The chair and the couch  - it just sucks it up.”

Other furniture was put outside on a tarp to air out. Lane, who lives with her mother, Lela Mae Fulcher, in her house -- parts of which are more than a century old -- said that it is the worst flooding they’ve seen since Hurricane Irene.

“It didn’t used to flood,” she said. “But now it seems it does every time.”
Preliminary damage assessments released Monday by Dare County confirmed that the northern villages took the biggest hit.  All of Dare County was estimated to have $1.96 million in damages. Of that $1.6 million was on Hatteras Island and most in the tri-villages.
In Rodanthe, the county found 38 structures had minor damage and nine had major damage with total estimated damages of $1.37 million. In Waves, one structure had minor damage and one had major damage with total estimated damages of $22,000. In Salvo, 17 structures had minor damage, with total estimated damages of $122,000.  

No structures were destroyed in any of the villages.

The only significant damage south of Salvo was at Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative in Buxton, with an estimated $100,000 in losses.

By Sunday, piles of smelly waterlogged debris lined Highway 12 – remnants of decking, soggy furniture, drowned plants and broken tree limbs. 

The National Weather Service estimated that the sound tide was 2  to 4 feet south of Hatteras and 3 to 5 feet north of Hatteras.   The exact number will be available on Tuesday after surveys are completed today, said forecaster Hal Austin.

A Canadian couple who are regular vacationers at St. Clair Landing campground pitched in to help numerous people who had lost their trailers in the surge.

“I was helping somebody in their trailer,” said Sue Leyzac, from Ontario, “and their pots and pans were filled with seaweed.”

After letting residents re-enter early on July 5, the Dare County Control Group opened access to everyone at 4 p.m.
“While there are some homes and businesses dealing with serious issues caused by Hurricane Arthur,” the county said in a press release, “it has been determined that the general level of conditions and infrastructure services” were adequate.

But some business owners felt having tourists pouring into the island while they were still cleaning up was premature.

“The people who were here all day cleaning, they didn’t have any time to recover,” said Barbara Bullock, manager of Ocean Waves Campground in Salvo. “I had campers come in right at 4 o’clock. It was crazy.” 

Bullock said that it would have been better if the county waited until Sunday morning to open the island to tourists.  Considering that some workers and business owners had left the island, they only had a matter of hours to mop up before visitors returned.

As it was, she said, there wasn’t enough time to finish repairs and cleaning. Six feet of water had surged into the campground in less than 20 minutes from the sound, she said, the worst since Hurricane Irene.

Bullock said the campground, which has been in business 30 years, would have been worse off if their loyal repeat customers hadn’t lent a hand.

“They jumped right to it,” she said. “They helped us tremendously today.”

Kimmie Robertson, owner of Pea Island Art Gallery in Salvo, said that she understands why some business owners would be upset that the county allowed re-entry, but at the same time she understands how important the tourist business is.

“For some people, absolutely, it opened too soon,” she said, pausing from cleaning debris from the gallery’s yard. “But I would say the largest percentage of people need that business.”
Robertson added that it may be difficult for tourists to realize how hard business owners have worked to get their establishments back into shape – “all day and all night,” she said -- and it would be helpful if there was more patience.

“Although I do support people coming in,” Robertson said,  “I hope there’s kindness.”

The kiteboarding school that faces the sound at Kitty Hawk Kites in Waves was pounded by the storm surge, with much damage to the interior and exterior of the building. The floating dock was destroyed. 

Considering that the business is based in Nags Head, the re-entry allowed staff from elsewhere to come in to assist in repair and clean-up, said Jessie Piacenza, human resources manager for Kitty Hawk Kites.

“Of course, we want to be safe,” she said. “But even if we have customers here, we can work around them.”

Piacenza said that if businesses are located only on the island, often times the preference would be to wait to open access until clean-up is done. But for businesses with multiple locations on the Outer Banks, the preference is usually to open up as soon as possible to get the resources in to access damage and do repairs.

Matt Kamins, owner of Atlantic Coast Café in Waves, said that the tri-villages, especially Rodanthe, took the brunt of the storm – just like they did in hurricanes Irene and Sandy.
Propane tanks were dislodged, decks were destroyed, signage was blown down, sheds floated from yards, mud coated walls and merchandise.

Kamins said that more needs to be done to prevent repeated storm damage. For instance, he said the beaches in Rodanthe should be nourished with sand to widen them . But he said the most immediate need is for people to get the support they need to get their lives and livelihoods back in order.

“In many of the businesses, we were closed for the most important holiday weekend of the season,” he said. “So it’s a burden for everybody on the island.”
Despite the damage, Kamins said he did not take issue with tourists coming back as early as they did. His concern was more for things like the safety of those stuck on the aged Bonner Bridge trying to get back to the island. 

“The problem was there was so much traffic,” he said. “It was bumper-to-bumper.”


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