On July 27, 2017, residents and visitors all across Hatteras and Ocracoke islands woke up in the dark.
clear weather conditions and no storms in sight, most folks initially
believed that the surprise power outage must be due to maintenance, or
some small issue with the power lines – like a stray kiteboarding kite.
(It had happened before.)
It wasn’t until mid-morning that it started to become clear that there was a much bigger problem at hand.
4:30 a.m. on that Thursday, PCL Construction, the company constructing
the new Bonner Bridge, mistakenly drove a steel casing into three
underground transmission cables that ran between the south end of the
Bonner Bridge and the overhead riser pole, causing a transmission
outage for all of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
By that afternoon, islanders were told to brace for “an extended power outage.”
Hatteras Electric Cooperative (CHEC) on Hatteras Island and Tideland
EMC on Ocracoke Island immediately went to work acquiring generators to
power as many homes and businesses as possible. Buxton and Frisco were
the first villages to be switched over to the generators, and more
units rolled in from all across the East Coast to handle the crisis.
Meanwhile, residents and visitors in other villages waited and tried to
generators arrived for all of Hatteras Island, the new challenge was to
provide power without overloading. Being late July, it was the height
of tourist season, and most people on the island got into a frustrating
routine of celebration when the power clicked on for 10 minutes,
followed by disappointment when it clicked off simply because there was
too much load to carry.
5 p.m. on Thursday, July 27, the Hyde County Board of Commissioners
issued a mandatory evacuation for all non-residents, leading to the
evacuation of 10,000 Ocracoke Island visitors. On Saturday, July 29,
Dare County followed suit, and thousands of visitors were evacuated
from Hatteras Island in an effort to get generator power up and running
for the few people who remained.
residents were ordered to keep air conditioners off, and to conserve
power until the outage was over, and the combination of the evacuation
and conservation efforts kept the generators going without interruption
in the days to come.
that point, a number of residents in the tri-villages and Avon areas
had gone 36 hours without power, losing all their refrigerated or
freezer contents, so the onset of generator power was a big relief.
there was a much larger issue to focus on. It was late July - one of
the prime times for businesses to make their seasonal income – and
there were no visitors.
deserted island during the outage was an eerie sight for the folks left
behind. The parking lots at local landmarks like the Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse or Canadian Hole were empty. Most businesses closed, but a
handful remained open with fans running to try to recoup a little of
their losses from the local population. Governor Roy Cooper spoke to a
packed house at the Avon Pier about the outage, and what was being done
– which included a State of Emergency order. It felt like a hurricane
evacuation, sans the hurricane, and one resident remarked “This is the
warmest February I can remember!”
islanders were out of sorts, having been forced into temporary and
unexpected unemployment, CHEC was exhaustedly working 24/7 to address
the problem by pursuing two simultaneous solutions.
the three cut cables were located well underground, an excavation team
from PCL Construction worked to build a trench at the site of the
damage, pumping saltwater out of the hole as they dug deeper and
deeper. At the same time, crews worked quickly to set overhead poles in
order to create an overhead transmission line that would run from the
south end of the Bonner Bridge to the already-existent overhead lines.
Both operations continued for days, and it was understood that
whichever solution worked first was the preferred option.
overhead line solution was completed first, and on Thursday, August 3,
the power was reconnected, and visitors were allowed back on the island
on Friday starting at noon.
story wasn’t over, though, as an estimated 5,000 residents on Hatteras
Island and 900 residents on Ocracoke who had been left behind now
needed to compensate for losing business during one of the busiest
weeks of the year.
began a website to handle claims from residents, homeowners, business
owners, and vacationers, while lawsuits were rapidly filed in the weeks
to come. Eventually consolidated into a class action lawsuit with six
law offices representing the claimants, this primary lawsuit was
finally settled in May, 2018, in the amount of $10.35 million.
are still be processed to this day through the current claims website,
http://www.obxsettlement.com/, and residents, visitors and business
owners still have until October 31, 2018, to file a new claim. Per a
representative from the Zaytoun Law Firm, one of the firms associated
with the suit, claims are continually being finalized and paid out, but
additional claims are trickling in as the final deadline to file inches
has officially been a year since the islands went dark for a week, but
the memory of waking up on a normal Thursday to a days-long power
outage still lingers for folks who were visiting or living on Hatteras
or Ocracoke Islands. But with overhead power lines now in place, and
the Bonner Bridge construction project wrapping up its work in
anticipation for a late 2018 opening, the Power Outage of 2017 is a
rare event that likely won’t happen again anytime soon.