As I am writing this on Friday evening, the outer bands of rain from Hurricane Irene are coming onshore on Hatteras Island. There isn’t much wind to speak of yet, but that will probably change quickly before too long.
Forecasters are saying that the storm should pass close to Cape Hatteras tomorrow morning, but the good news is that the storm is not strengthening.
Winds are down to 100 mph now and pressure is rising. However, no one here is breathing a sigh of relief.
We know it is a big and dangerous storm and that we will take a beating.
It’s not going to be pretty. We are likely to take a beating by huge waves and storm surge on the ocean. Some are expecting one or more new inlets to be cut on the island. It’s looking pretty unlikely that Highway 12 will not be damaged or washed out in places.
The storm surge on the Pamlico Sound is also expected to be huge, perhaps equal to or exceeding the surge from Hurricane Emily in 1993. And that was the highest soundside flooding that anyone alive then on the island had ever seen.
The official surge above water level was 10 feet, according to the National Weather Service. That translated to about 5 feet under my house, which is raised up on 8-foot pilings.
We have been urged by federal, state, and county officials to evacuate, but many of us have not.
“Those who do not evacuate should expect consequences,” the Dare County Control Group said in a statement this evening. “Be prepared to sustain your household for at least 72 hours. There could also be extreme hazards and a major disruption of all services for a prolonged period of time. During the high winds expected during this storm, emergency personnel will not be able to respond to calls for help.”
This hurricane has gotten our attention, probably more than any other in the 20 years I have lived here.
We are taking it seriously, and many islanders were absolutely torn about whether to stay or go. I was one of them. My stomach was upset for two days until I finally made the decision to stay this morning.
Some folks left, mostly those with children or medical problems. But many more did not.
Some see this decision as irresponsible. Last year, Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel was on Hatteras, being buffeted by wind and sound tide during Hurricane Earl, as he chided the locals for staying in the face of danger and risking the lives of others who might have to rescue them.
Believe me when I say that we all know that if we stay, we are on our own. No one will be coming to our rescue – at least until the storm passes by.
We stay not because we are macho or crazy, showing off with bravado, or have a cavalier attitude that we will never leave in a hurricane. All of us with any sense admit that we might leave someday, in some storm.
This one just isn’t it.
Hatteras and Ocracoke natives are used to riding out storms, on their own, with no help. It is what they have done for generations. One old-timer told a friend of mine that it is “just in his genes.”
Most of those who have made Hatteras their home are also hardened to storms and well-schooled in what to do to stay safe – most of which they learned from the native islanders.
We stay because it is home.
It is all that most of us have. It’s everything we own. It’s our houses, property, and our businesses. We want to be here to look after our interests and our future.
I have friends in the charter boat business who stay to look after the boats. I have friends who own seafood shops who stay to look after their shops and friends who own galleries and gift shops and book stores who stay for the same reason. I stay partially because my business is publishing the community news on Hatteras and Ocracoke, and it’s harder to do that if you are not here.
Furthermore, as we have learned, if you evacuate, there is no guarantee that you can return to your home, your business, and your life in a timely manner.
We found that out in Hurricane Dennis in 1999, which washed out Highway 12 between Avon and Buxton, and in Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which cut an inlet between Frisco and Hatteras, isolating the lower end of the island.
We don’t want to stay away that long. We want to be here to look after our property and our businesses and to make repairs as quickly as possible.
Of course, “all that we have” means only possessions and things, which are, of course, replaceable and which is why islanders so carefully consider whether to stay or go. No one makes that decision casually.
We are worried about the storm, no doubt about it. We know that we may suffer consequences.
Most of us who do stay know how bad it can get, and we’ve seen Emilys and Isabels. Most of us know how to prepare our homes, our vehicles, ourselves and what we should or shouldn’t do before, during, and after the storm. We know how much we can take.
We also know what we are facing after the storm. No power. No air conditioning in sticky, humid summer weather. Not even any fans. Perhaps no phones or cell phones. A smelly, stinking mess in the yard, where the storm surge has come through depositing eel grass and your neighbor’s possessions that weren’t secured. Maybe snakes.
We are not bragging because we stay or asking for sympathy. It is just the way our lives and our communities are organized.
The thought of closing up your house and business and driving away, not knowing if one or the other will be there in another day or two is very frightening.
Right now, things are looking up for us – at least they are looking less threatening than the past few days or even this morning.
We’ll know this time tomorrow night.
The Island Free Press will continue to provide updates on Hurricane Irene as long as conditions allow.
I am here. Don Bowers, Island Free Press photographer is here, as is his wife, Anne, who reports for the paper.
Our graphic designer and webmaster Donna Barnett, has evacuated with her husband and 11-year-old daughter, but she has just opened the Raleigh bureau of IFP.
So, we will be posting news, and if you don’t hear from us for a while, it’s probably because power and phones are down.
However, I can tell you that when this is over, we will have the very best news on the impact of Hurricane Irene on our islands.
Hope you will stay with us.
And, yes, I am nervous.