When Isabel came roaring in, I was in China. I heard there was a hurricane coming at home but CNN said that the Outer Banks had “dodged a bullet.”
I called [my husband Ernie Foster] and soon realized that this was not true. He was speaking so fast that I knew he wasn’t in good shape.
Not being able to get information, I decided to get back home. What a journey! It entailed multiple time zones, at least five airports, and innumerable hours.
Coming home was, I now realize, a typical Outer Banks experience. Mike Scott lent his car after Ernie brought [his charter boat] the Albatross to the boatyard. He met me at Norfolk airport, and we went to our friends’ house, Kathy and Tony Lamm, in Rodanthe for a lovely meal and a comfy bed.
The next morning, we boarded the Albatross and headed down the sound to Hatteras. It was a revelation. I had never experienced such a storm. When we came to the creek that leads to Hatteras I was horrified to see the edge of the beautiful Marsh completely covered with the household items of my friends and neighbors – appliances, furniture, personal items. I could not process this terrible vision.
When we arrived at the harbor, and people were already working to get it back in shape, it was astounding to me! The damage was terrible, but the spirits were high, as watermen and other neighbors toiled together to get the docks rebuilt.
The next day I took my camera and went out to document the damage. After a while, I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. It felt so invasive.
We were without tourism, rentals, restaurant patrons. Small businesses, our lifeblood, had neither employees nor customers. We had no infrastructure – no water, electricity, basic services.
The commercial fishermen were the only business people who had access to income. Those whose boats were in good shape quickly got underway as the state permitted fish trucks to come across on the supply ferries. Others began to work on any damages to boats and docks so that they, too, were back on the water before long.
Charter fishermen came to an agreement with the county that allowed them to take customers out who agreed to terms that included coming directly to the boat they had chartered from the emergency ferries that landed at Oden’s Dock, and leaving immediately on return to the dock.
They were the sole sources of income in Hatteras Village.
But life was still good!
There were portable showers, (with warm water), that village women supplied with fragrant soaps and hair products. We enjoyed wine evenings there after we got cleaned up.
Our laundry was left in bags in the Methodist Church and delivered to the emergency ferry to Buxton where local women retrieved it, washed, dried, folded, and returned to us
Several restaurants and organizations from the island and up the beach brought community dinners. Not easy. They had to take lengthy ferry rides to get here and back, often lugging heavy equipment.
Even the meals from the Salvation Army were wonderful community events! I resisted at first, not wanting to admit I needed help, but soon realized they were valuable, not just for nutrition, but for community. I loved to hear these wonderful volunteers express their joy at seeing members of the community pitch in to produce and serve the meals
Residents set up the “Smal Mart” in a large commercial garage that Ted Midgett donated for use. It was filled with the many generous donations from not only Hatteras people, but friends from everywhere, including bicycles that were collected and restored by a bike dealer in Nags Head.
Just a few remembrances… I realized that I lived in a unique place – one that can cope and will always find a way to make the best of whatever comes our way.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of Isabel, let us remember the strength of our entire community and the good example of the fishing community as it continues to carry on traditions.