November 14, 2016

Hurricane Recovery:
Stories behind the effort to get back to business

By JOY CRIST



More than a month after Hurricane Matthew pummeled through the southern portion of Hatteras Island, causing record flooding and massive damage in its wake, the communities of Frisco and Hatteras village are steadily getting back to business – just as they do after every storm.

The overall damage to local businesses spanned the gamut -- from minor flooding that could be mopped up in a day’s time to complete structural overhauls that will take months to complete. But the one attribute that is seemingly universal is the community-wide initiative to get back to normal and to reopen doors to the last wave of fall and holiday season visitors as soon as possible.

From instrumental services, such as local grocery stores and the Hatteras village pharmacy, to boutiques and eateries that lure in the visitors, bouncing back is what Hatteras islanders do.

And while every story is different, the motivation to get back to business is clearly a common thread.

THE STORY OF THE HATTERAS RESTAURANT

Sonny’s Restaurant in Hatteras village was hit hard by Matthew. Just a month after Hurricane Hermine brought 8 inches of sound water into the restaurant – water that was quickly cleared allowing the restaurant to open four days later – Matthew arrived and dealt a devastating blow to the popular local eatery.

In the storm surge, 2 feet of muddy sound water poured into the restaurant, claiming the motors for the refrigeration systems, the carpeting, the furnishings, and the food stock.

But true to Hatteras form, Leeann Quidley Canning and the Sonny’s crew were at the restaurant hours after Matthew departed to begin the process of cleaning up.

“By Sunday evening, we came in to assess the damage, and by the next day we had the carpet out, furniture pushed outside, and had cleared out the flooded stock,” says Leeann.

In the days and weeks that followed, the staff at Sonny’s, with local friends and volunteers, started putting the pieces back together in an effort to reopen for the remainder of the season.

“[Getting open again] was very important to us, because we’re one of the main restaurants down here – especially for breakfast and lunch,” says Leanne. “We’re also a tradition for a lot of people, especially this time of year, and we want to be able to cater to our visitors, and our locals.”

The efforts paid off, and Sonny’s officially reopened on Thursday, Nov, 3 – less than a month after Matthew stormed through the restaurant.

And while everything that frequent patrons love about Sonny’s is still intact, there are a few noticeable differences that won’t be cleared up before the restaurant closes for 2016.

“We had to go back with no carpet, so we just have concrete [floors] for now,” says Leeann. “In the wintertime, we have some more work to do – like cut into walls and remove insulation. But right now, everything is fine except the [lack of] carpet.”

Sonny’s will be open until about mid-December, and may even stay open until the week after Christmas, depending on the amount of business.

The reopening of the business is a welcome sign for many islanders that the island is starting to get back to normal. 

“It’s not just about the business side of it – it’s very personal,” says Leeann. “The majority of customers and locals are our friends – we know them. So we’re very glad to be open again.” 

THE STORY OF THE HATTERAS DOCK

Some of the most dramatic images for Hatteras residents and visitors after Hurricane Matthew were the photos of Oden’s Dock.

Oden’s Dock was heavily damaged during the storm, with bulkheads and pilings unceremoniously removed from their waterfront location, and the dockside shop flooded with saltwater.

But just a couple days after Matthew departed, makeshift crews could be spotted along the waterfront, and after a solid month of work, Oden’s Dock reopened to the public within the last several weeks.

“Oden’s Dock is back up and running,” says owner Dan Oden. “It’s been a long month with a lot of work, but we’ve had a [heck] of a lot of help. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such good friends who have helped me so much.”

There’s still some work to go. New windows are needed in the store, and there is still ongoing wiring and plumbing projects along the docks, as well as one fuel pump that is still being worked on, but Dan says that things are moving right along.

“If you came, you could tell there was a storm, but we’ve come a long way in a month for sure,” he says. “Fortunately, the commercial guys have had some really good fishing, so they’ve been busy, and we’ve had business working with those guys.”

“Some of [the fishermen] depend on us to get back to work also, so when they’re back to work, we get back to work,” he adds. “Everybody in the village here is kind of back. We’re all still piddling with stuff and still have little things to fix all over, but we’re coming back.”

Considering the extent of the damage, getting back to business was a slow process, but it began gradually and has steadily progressed in the past few weeks.

“A couple weeks ago, we started opening up at 7 a.m., then got our cash sale system up and running, and then started opening on a regular schedule,” says Dan. “It was about two weeks ago when we finally got back on a regular schedule from 5 a.m. until 6 or 7 p.m., depending on what guys are fishing.”

And Dan attests that the bounce back is credited to the many folks who came by after the storm to lend a hand.

“Over last month we’ve had so many people helping – people who have helped us do business over the years…We’ve had electricians, carpenters, and a ton of volunteers. All of them came, and we really got a lot done.

“We’re very fortunate, and I don’t know what I did to deserve such good friends.”

THE STORY OF THE HATTERAS PHARMACY

Beach Pharmacy in Hatteras Village was open just two days after a Sunday morning inundation of 20 inches of water that poured into the store in Matthew's storm surge, causing damage to a number of over-the-counter medications as well as the first shelf of prescription medications in the pharmacy portion of the store.

But as long-time pharmacist Steve Evans knows all too well, opening the pharmacy back up after a storm is of paramount importance. 

“I’ve been here since May of 1991, and it’s always important to open back up because people have to have their medication,” he says. “Even after Isabel when the road washed out, I came over here with the first boat and immediately set up a route so the Avon store could get a [prescription] transfer, fill it, and then ship it back here. [We’ve also made] arrangements with the Coast Guard to get [prescriptions] to Ocracoke so there’s never more than three days interruption, if that much.”

Having the pharmacy up and running is arguably one of the most important aspects of getting back to business in Hatteras village, and with this in mind, Steve, his staff, and volunteers from the local church came in on the Sunday of the storm and the Monday after to clean up as much as possible and reopen for business.

Though still in need of remodeling and repairs, the pharmacy opened back up on the Tuesday after the storm.

“We have to redo the building again like after Emily, but we’re open,” says Steve. “And we do have the ability in an emergency situation if there’s a prescription that’s not refillable to get a hold of local doctors so [that patients] have enough medication to last them.

“It’s a personal thing – you either commit or you don’t commit,” says Steve on the rush and extra efforts involved in reopening and getting back to normal as soon as possible. “If you’re just punching a clock, you don’t commit. But if you wait a while, what are people going to do? People could die, and how could you live with yourself?

“Right now, we’re operating, but it will take a while. But we’re at a point where we can keep people in their medications.”

THE STORY OF THE FRISCO SUPERMARKET

Two well-established Frisco destinations – the Frisco Rod & Gun and Frisco Supermarket, as well as the neighboring Frisco Sandwich Co. -- were two of the local businesses that missed the brunt of the storm and were able to open the doors just hours after the flood waters receded.

Natalie Perry Kavanagh, whose family runs the market and adjacent sandwich shop, said that while the waters got high outside the doors, their businesses were comparatively lucky.

The water rose about 3 feet outside, but with a barrier of sandbags on the lower level, the interior of the grocery store received roughly 3 inches of flooding, and the adjacent tackle shop – which is slightly elevated – didn’t get any water inside at all.

“We had put a lot of items up, which helped save them,” says Natalie, “And my dad and brother were in the store the afternoon after the storm had passed, mopping and cleaning like crazy.”

As a result of their efforts – both before and immediately after the storm – the Frisco Rod & Gun and Frisco Supermarket was able to open the doors the next day at 6 a.m.

“We lost some products in our store room and had to throw away some things, but it was not a huge loss,” says Natalie. “If it had been 1 inch higher, it could have been catastrophic.

“We were pretty much back to normal fast, which was good, because people needed things – at the grocery store especially – and I think people were ready to get back to normal as soon as they could,” adds Natalie. “To go and be in a place that didn’t get wrecked was nice, because you could at least go inside and get a cup of coffee, or just feel normal for a little while.”

Since the stores opened their doors, the traffic has been steady with locals and familiar faces alike.

“We’re 100 percent back to normal now. We’re ready for late fall shoppers, Christmas shoppers, and visitors,” says Natalie. “We’ve also had a couple fishing tournaments since then – the Capital City guys were great and so was the NCBBA guys. But we’ve had a lot of people who said, 'We didn’t know the hurricane hit here!’ … It seems like the hurricane wasn’t widely [advertised] outside the area, which is good for Hatteras Island.”

The neighboring Frisco sandwich shop has also been open regularly since the storm, serving lunch from Wednesday through Saturday.

“We just need more visitors to make their way down here,” says Natalie.

And besides helping the area get back to business, the other bonus of being able to open, and open quickly, is that the market and restaurant employees didn’t have to be affected by Matthew any more than necessary.

“We’re very lucky where we are, and we were so happy we could get open, we could help people, and we could get our employees working again,” says Natalie. “Two of our employees lost their homes, and to get them back to work and have a paycheck coming in was really important and meant a lot to us. A lot of people couldn’t get back to work, and that was heartbreaking.”

THE STORY OF THE HATTERAS BOUTIQUE

Izabelle's Closet, which was named after Hurricane Isabel, is a popular local boutique that is still open for business, but which may be a little more difficult to find since Hurricane Matthew.

The business, which was at the Beacon Shops in Hatteras village prior to the storm, had roughly 12 inches of water in the interior of the shop, but, thankfully, all the apparel remained untouched.

“I had enough water to damage pretty much everything but my clothing,” says owner Sue Jones. “I’ve learned over the years how to put it up high so it doesn’t get ruined.”

Without a home after Matthew, Sue turned to her friend, Linda Hilton of Sandy Bay Gallery on Highway 12 in Frisco, with whom she shared a space years ago and who offered her space in the gallery to set up shop.

“Linda was kind enough to allow me to share space with her,” says Sue.  “…For years, we had been side by side in Hatteras and had a door that joined the two of us together. One year she had to relocate, and I had some of her jewelry on display, and we’re friends, so I asked her ‘Can I put my stuff in your store?’ And she said ‘Of course,you can!’”

Moving Izabelle's Closet to its new Sandy Bay location was a full day’s work, but it only required one vehicle and the help of a few friends to wash down the racks that could be salvaged, and transport the wares to their new home. “It was a good day’s work, but we did it,” says Sue.

“We moved in here the day after the storm, and technically opened up the following Tuesday,” she adds. “And I will be here until I can find my new location.”

The large Izabelle's Closet sign in Hatteras village disappeared during Matthew, but Sue has stationed a smaller sign outside of Sandy Bay, and word is starting to spread about the new location. “People are coming in now that have heard that I moved back here,” says Sue, “and Linda and I share a lot of the same customers, so people come in and say, ‘Oh, this is where you are now!’”

Sue is in the process of scouting out a new location somewhere in Frisco or Hatteras village, but for now, she’s happy to be up and running in time for the Christmas shopping season.

Currently, Izabelle's Closet is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., and will be open Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Sue and Linda are also planning to have an open house the weekend after Thanksgiving, complete with refreshments to entice shoppers to stop by and check out the new -- or rather old but reunited -- partnership.

“Everything is just displayed on racks for the time being, and we’re trying to be creative and make do with the space, but I’m very happy to have a place to be.”

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