December 8, 2014

UPDATE:  Coastal storm pounds Hatteras,
cuts communication...WITH SLIDE SHOW


Today was the day that a relatively minor coastal storm hit Hatteras with a major punch.

The storm that started winding up early Sunday morning was not particularly remarkable -- north to northeast winds sustained at 30 to 40 mph with gusts to 50 and seas peaking at 15 to 17 feet.

However, this morning, as it moved past Hatteras, the storm sent the raging ocean cascading through the dunes and across Highway 12 from Cape Hatteras north.

The motels and houses in north Buxton were pounded, though the road was never closed there and commuters slowly moved through the saltwater.  Northern Rodanthe took a beating, up to four reported dune breaches sent the water and sand over the highway on Pea Island, and the Pea Island Inlet Bridge was said to have been an island surrounded by surging water.

About 8:45 a.m., the North Carolina Department of Transportation closed Highway 12  from the Bonner Bridge to the S-curves north of Rodanthe because of sand and high water on Pea Island, especially the northern end at the "canal" zone.

And, finally, around 9:30 a.m., the storm surge caused a break in the fiber-optic cable that runs beside the highway on Pea Island. 

That took down Internet and cell phone service on the entire island, and some land lines, especially in the Frisco area, were also not working.

Until 4 p.m. when hard-working crews miraculously found and repaired the break in the fiber-optic and DOT got the roads cleaned up, life was like the old days on Hatteras Island -- no highway off, no Internet, no cell phones, no e-mail, no texting, and, in some cases, no phones at all.

To say it was a strange day would be an understatement.

Tonight Brian Cullen, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Newport, N.C. agreed that the coastal storm was not particularly a monster.

It wasn't all that windy, we've seen much higher seas, and we were not even in an astronomically high tide cycle.

What got us, he said, was the long duration of the persistent north and northeast winds.  And, of course, this comes with the severe beach erosion that in some areas puts the highway and homes and businesses at risk.

"There won't be much change until after daybreak tomorrow," Cullen said.  After the morning high tide around 9:30 a.m., the wind and seas will begin to subside.

The ocean pounded the island again tonight and will again Tuesday when there will be an astronomically higher tide in the morning.

The Weather Service has extended the coastal flood advisory until 11  Tuesday morning and the high surf advisory until 2 in the afternoon. 

Schools were open today on Hatteras Island because once the children got to school, communications went down and parents couldn't be notified to pick them up.  Phones in the schools were not working.

I spent the afternoon at the doctor's office in Avon.  I called to make the appointment about 8:45 a.m. and heard from a friend who answered the phone about the exciting trip she had to work through north Buxton this morning.

Then my phones went dead, and the Internet went down.  My land line was one that didn't work, and I felt too under the weather -- so to speak -- to drive around to see what was happening -- though I figured the fiber-optic had probably been cut somewhere. I did not talk to another person until I walked into the doctor's office shortly after 2 p.m.

When I drove up to Avon, the overwash in north Buxton had ended and only a little sand remained on the road.  Even when I drove home after 5, there was no surge yet from the evening's high tide.

When I got home, my phone was brimming with messages.

One of them made me smile.

"Hi, Irene, this is Richard Marlin," said the Frisco fire chief.  "You don't have to call me back, but I just wanted to know if you are going to write about the day that people actually had to talk to each other on Hatteras Island?"

That might seems like a strange question, but, then, it was a very strange day here with no e-mail or texting for all and no phoning for many. Imagine it -- no Facebook!  If you wanted to talk to people, you actually had to go find them and talk TO them.

My colleague Donna Barnett tried to call her husband at his job site. When she realized what was happening, she wondered how she got a message to him in the old days.  She guesses that she got in the car and drove over there.

Sure seems like a long time ago, but a lot of folks on Hatteras were right there today. Most us, though, were probably too rattled to enjoy it or to chuckle at the ironies.

After getting my fill of antibiotics at the doctor's office, I am hoping to feel better tomorrow -- and to have a phone to make calls and an Internet to send e-mail.

We're sorry about this brief report tonight, and we hope to do better tomorrow.


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