August 18, 2014

Guest Column: Evacuation Vacation 


As I write this, I am planning to come back down to Hatteras next week. I feel like I have some unfinished vacationing to take care of.

That's because of Hurricane Arthur, the storm that came on the Fourth of July and ruined everything.

The owner of the Lighthouse View Motel in Buxton, her staff, and my wife and I got through best we could, just accepting the reality of how these storms can be.

However, two nights in pricey hotels north of the Oregon Inlet were not what we had planned for our Hatteras vacation. I guess the more you visit Hatteras, the more you'll be susceptible to these things.

We  first discovered Lighthouse View in November 2003. Fewer than two months before, Hurricane Isabel closed down the Cape Hatteras Motel next door, where we had been booked.

I know they and other businesses have suffered a great financial loss because of Hurricane Arthur's arrival at the worst possible time.

I had started my vacation only one day earlier. I met my friend, Scott, at the Lighthouse Beach on the early morning of July 2, after the 400-mile drive down. His first words to me after not having seen me in a few months were, "Hey Mike, what'd you come down to get kicked out?"

That's a typical honest, no-nonsense Hatteras  attitude, and I love it. The years of storms have refined the locals to this reality, where they can't speculate, hesitate or sugar coat. The storm is coming and that's it. Get ready, prepare for anything, and don't get your hopes up.

Of course he was right, and he was also right in thinking what the storm might do, so I packed up and left the next morning in a mandatory evacuation for all visitors to Hatteras Island.

I think all the local businesses and working people lost a lot of money in this storm on an important holiday weekend, and yet we had to evacuate. We could have been trapped there or lost our vehicles or even worse.

On Saturday afternoon, July 5, fewer than 48 hours after the storm, we were allowed to return to Hatteras Island. On our way back to Buxton, we saw the destruction in the tri-villages of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo, and we vacationers all knew the evacuation was totally necessary.

It was upsetting to see, and my Superstorm Sandy survivor guilt started to come back. How dare we complain about being evacuated? We had all been so selfish and so foolish, and we had found places to stay in the northern OBX. These people lost homes, businesses, vehicles, income, you name it.

Last Fourth of July, my trip was cancelled because of my cancer diagnosis. My first chemotherapy began that week. My entire summer was cancelled last year.

Just 10 months earlier, we lost our Jersey Shore home for 4 1/2 months to Sandy and got a full taste of a real-life Hatteras local storm experience. It will soon be two years since Sandy, and our barrier island, the part of Jersey everyone saw on TV, is still a total disaster -- ugly and dirty. It will never be the same again, at least not in my lifetime.

However, my family came out just fine, so we just have to live on that now-awful island, but have no right to complain, even though we now hate it there.

How could Arthur come so early? Historical records show no hurricane landfall here this early, but I've now learned first-hand from my own experience that's always the story. "I never had a drop of water in my home in 40 years on this island" people said in Jersey and then the entire Atlantic Ocean was coming down the street in a seven-foot deep raging river of water from Sandy.

Or, as my friend from Hatteras always says, "You never know." That's it, exactly -- the only words of wisdom are "You never know." All else is folly.

I have no complaint. I have learned that when we come to Hatteras, we sign up for this, and the beautiful island and wonderful people are worth it to us.

For many years, my family always seemed to have great visits and never had a trip cancelled nor had we been evacuated, though we had heard all those stories and had seen the results and after-effects of storms like Isabel in 2003. That year we couldn't visit Hatteras village because of an inlet that the hurricane cut between the villages of Frisco and Hatteras.

We had always had a great time, a perfect getaway from our noisy, busy, fast-paced, stressed-out world to the slowed, relaxing island pace of Hatteras. This is why we drive so far, from our Jersey Shore barrier island, plus the extra hour from the northern "OBX" to Hatteras.

Then our trip down in August 2011, the year before Sandy, was cancelled, because we were coming on Sunday, and Hurricane Irene hit Hatteras on Saturday, the very day before. That storm caused "New New Inlet" and much destruction and devastation on Hatteras, so I could not be so selfish as to complain about my lost vacation.

The people of Hatteras amaze me, because they just keep on going -- restoring, rebuilding, and getting back on with their lives on an island paradise. That comes with a price, and like most everything precious, it's a very steep price.

We visitors keep coming back, too, in spite of trips cancelled, evacuation vacations, or riding out storms ourselves, and this actually makes us part of the Hatteras community, with the common bond of love for all things Hatteras -- the water, the people, the peace and quiet, and storms that come and go.

I'm coming back again now. Tracey over at Lighthouse View and I have it all worked out regarding our two nights lost from Arthur, and I can't wait.

Maybe this streak of difficulty will end, and the years of wonderful visits with beautiful weather will return.

I guess my family had been on a winning streak up until these past few years, but we always heard about the storms, the evacuations, the cancellations, and the destruction and devastation.

I guess all that you can say is, "You never know."

(Michael Letso is a resident of Chadwick Beach, N.J., and has been a regular visitor to Hatteras Island for many years.)

comments powered by Disqus