October 11, 2016

Helping hands turn out for Hatteras village


The Hatteras Village fire station was swarming with activity on Tuesday afternoon as volunteers from all across the island congregated in the central location to pick up work crew assignments, help serve lunch to hungry volunteers and residents, and assist with the massive clean-up that is ongoing in Hatteras village in the wake of Hurricane Matthew's destruction.

Boxes of bottled water, bleach, cleaning kits, MREs (ready to eat meals), and other supplies were piled high in the center of the fire station, while a group of local residents set up a long buffet of hamburgers and hot dogs, side dishes, and desserts to one side. The line for all stations – both for supplies and food - remained steady, with both volunteers and local residents popping in to pick up work assignments, grab lunch, or just ask for a little extra help.

One couple who approached the desk manned by the outreach organizer and president of the Ladies' Auxiliary of Hatteras Village Volunteer Fire Department, Mary Ellon Ballance, had stopped by to request a pair of gloves.

“We’re dealing with something in our home… I’m not sure what it is, but it smells like raw sewage, so gloves would be appreciated,” said the requester. He was quickly given a full box of rubber gloves.

Other people who were piling into the fire station were just grabbing a quick bite before returning to work. A group of U.S. Coast Guard personnel were taking a breather at an outdoor picnic table before returning “to the field.”

“We’re just going around doing what they need us to do,” said Coast Guardsman Joey Bunn. “There’s a crew to respond to what’s happening on the water, but the rest of us are helping in Hatteras, in any way we can.”

Antoinette Gaskins, who helped serve lunch with a team of six members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)  and four other community volunteers, estimated that roughly 240 to 250 stopped by to grab a meal on Tuesday before heading back out to the various homes and businesses that had been inundated with the highest storm flooding that most Hatteras residents had seen in their lifetime. 

Food donations for the day’s meal were received from Food Lion, Ketch 55, Bros Sandwich Shack, Oceana's and Dirty Dick's, as well as desserts that were baked by community members.

“We’re serving lunch today,” Gaskins said, “And then we will assess and see what we need to do next…. The CERT Team is on call, and we will help as needed.”

The sheer number of people flowing through the Hatteras fire station like a makeshift assembly line was inspirational, but a drive through southern Hatteras village made it abundantly clear to any passerby that there was still miles of work to be done.

The Hatteras waterfront area surrounding Oden’s Dock remained a mess, with twisted docks and boardwalks bordering waterfront structures that had doors with the bottom half missing, windows blown out, and interiors wiped clean. The Hatteras Marlin Club had a twisted boardwalk and bulkhead, as well as high waters that made it impossible to drive through without a truck or very high clearance. And the remnants of the storm clean-up itself – like piles of soaked carpeting, ruined furnishings, and piles of eel grass – were stacked high all along  Highway 12.

Capt. Ernie Foster of the Albatross Fleet, who has been a local waterman for more than 50 years, was busy attending to his dock house on the edge of the Hatteras waterfront.

“Our dock house and storage shed had water for the first time ever,” he said.

“This is the highest tide I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” said Foster. “[1993’s] Hurricane Emily was the highest tide that my father had ever seen here, and this one was 8 inches higher than Emily.” 

He indicated the mark where Emily had approached just outside the dock house door, and then stepped inside to show how high the sound had risen with Matthew, on a built-in shelf that still had a few stray pieces of seaweed attached.

“I woke up at around 4 a.m.,” he said. “It wasn’t even blowing here, and then WHAM.

“The good thing is that people don’t have to listen to us old-timers anymore about ‘how high the tide was back when,'” added Ernie. “…And in 50 years, they’ll be able to say ‘2016 was the highest tide I’d ever seen.” 

By Tuesday afternoon, volunteers from all over the island were hard at work repairing or replacing the long stretch of docks that border the Hatteras harbor and / or removing debris. And while the area is in the early but substantial stages of being transformed back to what it looked like just a few days ago, there is still a long way to go. 

Allen Burrus, Dare County commissioner and owner of Burrus Red & White Supermarket, was also busy getting his store in order – which was officially open for the first time on Tuesday since Matthew’s arrival. “We had 2 inches of flooding inside, and 14 to 18 inches at the door,” he said. “As far as flooding is concerned, this is the highest I’ve ever seen in the village itself.

“The house next door was built in the 1950s and never had water in it,” he said. “And this time, it got 2 inches of water.”

He also noted that the rising water that crept into the village with the afternoon high tide had a tendency to slow down the massive recovery efforts. 

“It hinders our clean-up efforts in the afternoon,” he said, “but it’s not showing up as much in the morning, so we can get a lot of it done then.”

Burrus, as well as several other Hatteras village residents, estimates that roughly 60 to 70 homes and businesses had saltwater flooding damage, which included the local Yadkin Bank, Teach’s Lair Marina, Oden’s Dock, Sonny’s Restaurant, and other local landmarks that lure visitors to Hatteras village in the first place.

“We’re still recovering from Isabel, economically, and Rodanthe is still recovering from Irene,” he said. “And now we’ve had two bad hits in just a little over a month.”

Burrus did note, however, that the massive community efforts were the bright side of the devastation. 

“It’s always great that people come here from one end of the island to the other to work together and get things done,” he said. “The kids especially -” he added, referring to the local Hatteras Island schoolchildren who were hard at work in Hatteras since the Cape Hatteras schools were closed on Tuesday. “They are working really hard and are helping so much.”

Capt. Ernie Foster echoed these sentiments. “Having experience with [storms] allows you to deal with it. Psychologically, you’re more prepared,” he said. “You think ‘Oh my neighbor needs help? Of course! I’ll be right there!’ That’s just life on an island.”

“The bad times around here bring out the best in us.”


Help will still be needed in Hatteras village in the days and weeks to come to get the community back on its feet.

According to Erin Thomas, who is working on the storm response led by Mary Ellon Balance, there is a list of more than 40 homeowners who need help with clean-up efforts, as well as an equally long list of displaced residents who are in need of long-term rentals.

In addition, help is also available to anyone in the village who needs assistance.

For residents who are struggling with storm recovery, the Salvation Army has arrived at the Hatteras Fire Department to provide food, and the station is stocked with water, clean-up kits, mops, and additional supplies.

The Buxton fire station and the Frisco fire station also have supply kits available for residents as well. 

Anyone in need can stop by the Buxton, Frisco, or Hatteras fire stations to pick up a cleaning kit, or can stop by the Hatteras village station for food and to request additional help.


All volunteers who want to help with the clean-up efforts can stop by the Hatteras Village Fire Station at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday to assist residents with flood-damaged houses.

In addition, anyone who can provide short-term or long-term housing for displaced residents can email [email protected].

Monetary donations are also greatly appreciated, and all donations can be sent to the Hatteras Ladies Auxiliary, PO Box 164, Hatteras, NC 27943, with the attention / check note of “Matthew Relief.”


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