On Labor Day Monday, roughly 30 Hatteras Islanders were foregoing their holiday plans to move old refrigerators and soaking wet furnishings and rake piles and piles of eel grass out of the yards of their island in Hatteras village.
These hardworking folks were part of the Hatteras Island Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT – an all-volunteer organization that serves by helping out in a storm or other emergency in any way they can.
The organization was founded in 2011 after Hurricane Irene and has been headed ever since by Larry Ogden.
“Our job is to do whatever we’re asked to do,” he says, while taking a break at the Hatteras Volunteer Fire Department – the temporary home base for Monday’s operations. “Sometimes we make meals, or help with traffic control or help with clean-up, like we’re doing today.”
The CERT crew is effectively “activated” by a government agency, whether it’s Dare County Emergency Management, the Dare County police, or local fire and rescue organizations. Once they are activated and called upon for help, they can be assigned with any number of tasks that are essentially instrumental to getting the island back to normal.
Indeed, the day’s work for the CERT team isn’t pretty, but it’s certainly appreciated by Hatteras village residents who need help after heavy storm surge smashed through the village, leaving massive piles of debris behind.
Hatteras village and parts of Frisco apparently had the highest soundside flooding on the island on Saturday and Tropical Storm Hermine pulled away from the Outer Banks and winds shifted to the west and northwest.
Sustained winds of about 35 mph with gusts over 60 sent a surge into southern Hatteras and Ocracoke. The water rose quickly and the height of the surge took many villagers, who are veterans of many tropical systems, by surprise. Some folks have reported water levels of 4 or 5 feet above normal — or more — which is more than had been forecast by the National Weather Service.
In Hermine’s wake, a number of homes in the village were inundated with eel grass, which still covers some local yards like a thick, brown, smelly carpet.
In response to the unexpected pile-up, residents were encouraged to ask for help with cleaning out flooded storage areas, garages, and eel grass pile-up by stopping by the Hatteras fire station and signing up for assistance. From there, residents who called or put their name on a make-shift dry erase board were attended to by CERT team members who went to their house and embarked on the messy task of putting everything back together.
There are a total of 70 CERT members from all the villages from Rodanthe to Hatteras who have had at least 20 hours of training before officially becoming a part of the CERT crew.
Staffed with members from the local VFDs, the rescue squads, the EMS, and everyday folks who just want to help their community, the end result is a dedicated crew that can tackle just about anything.
Justin Bolden, who works with the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad Station 35 as well as the Frisco VFD and CERT, is a prime example of the lengths these volunteers will go to help the community.
Justin began his Hermine-related work on Saturday morning at 1 a.m. And with the exception of “a little sleep here and there,” he has been going ever since.
It started with the Frisco VFD and Station 35 call at 1 a.m. on Saturday that a tornado had touched down at Hatteras Sands Campground on Eagle Pass Road in Hatteras village and that structures and people were in the water. Justin was part of the team that rescued people who had gotten trapped in two of the little cabins or “houses,” which, according to Justin, included at least two people in the “green house” and two in the “pink house.”
From there, he assisted with setting up a field dressing unit at the Frisco Campground to help people with injuries and to transfer them to the medical center in Avon if necessary. He said at least six to 10 people were addressed and / or treated at the campground after the tornado hit, but before the backside of the storm storm began to pick up steam.
On Saturday morning, as the wind picked up and the waters started to advance, Justin helped out with securing boats at Teach’s Lair Marina, to prevent them from coming down on the pilings and causing some massive structural damage to area businesses and residences. As the water started to pour over the docks, Justin then went down to a central watersports shop, to help secure kayaks and other equipment that was displayed outside.
Once the sound got deeper and deeper, Justin borrowed a kayak from the watersports store and began responding to pages and calls by paddling to the scene, which included a report that an accident had occurred in Summerplace — a community that’s a fairly lengthy paddle away — with unknown injuries and a stranded vehicle. When he arrived at the scene, the people were thankfully OK and out of the vehicle.
After the waters subsided, Justin went on to help with clean-up operations, which he was still doing on Monday.
As of Monday afternoon, he’s wasn’t sure how much sleep he had since the first page early on Saturday morning. But he also wasn’t slowing down his efforts at all during the day’s lengthy clean-ups.
“Most able bodied families don’t call for help – they can do it themselves,” he says. “We’re helping the people who really need it, and that’s what’s important.”
Justin has certainly emerged as one of the most celebrated helpers in Hatteras village after the storm, but he is by no means the only one.
Hatteras librarian Helen Hudson got to the village to help with the massive clean-up by hitchhiking from Frisco, since she was unable to drive through the overwash that still persists on the edge of the town. Wearing waders and carrying a bottle of water, she assisted with the clean-up until all the homes were done before catching a ride back home.
Rosa Alice Mayo, who was born and raised in Hatteras village, also helped out throughout the day from the CERT operations’ start at 10 a.m.
During the day, she went to roughly a half dozen houses to help move appliances, furnishings, and who-knows-how-many piles of seaweed and eel grass.
“I don’t think anyone expected this,” she says while driving through areas of Hatteras village where the eel grass piles are nearly as tall as the one-story homes.
“It was forecast to be 1-3 feet above normal, so this was surprising,” she said.
During her Labor Day holiday, she spent her time cleaning out a downstairs shed, removing an old washer / dryer that had gotten flooded, removing tree limbs and other debris, and restoring heavy flower pots to their rightful places.
It’s not how most people would spend a holiday to be sure, but like all CERT volunteers, the rewards are well worth the effort – especially if you know your neighbors, like Rosa or “Rosie” does.
“For the most part, you know who needs help right away and who to contact,” she says. “You know where to go…. And it’s just so awesome that they’ve asked us for help. It’s neighbors helping neighbors, and it’s an amazing feeling.”
Larry Ogden has the same feeling.
“It’s very rewarding. People really appreciate what you do,” he says. “When people know you care, and you’re there to help, they appreciate it a lot – and more so from people on the island, than from people coming from outside the island.”
The CERT crew worked off the list of homes that needed help for the better part of Monday morning and Monday afternoon. The crew included Hatteras villagers, as well as folks from Frisco, Buxton, Avon, and the tri-villages, who may not have known the families in need, but who clearly understood the importance of reciprocal help in a small community like Hatteras Island.
Elsewhere, there was some significant overwash in north Buxton during this morning’s high tide that covered Highway 12 near the motels and flooded side streets off Old Lighthouse Road.
The National Weather Service in Newport/Morehead City has cancelled the High Surf Advisory and Coastal Flood Advisory that had been in effect until 8 p.m. this evening. The Weather Service still warns beach-goers that there will be a high threat of rip currents on area beaches through Tuesday, especially from Cape Hatteras north.
Meanwhile, with the exception of some heavily flooded patches of Highway 12 in and around Hatteras village, it was more or less business as usual for beach-goers and vacationers.
Popular beach accesses, including the Frisco Bathhouse and Sandy Bay just outside Hatteras village were packed with vehicles, and although very few people were heading into the rough waters, the shoreline was brimming with photographers and families who were taking advantage of the post-storm beachcombing.
Surfers readily popped up over the dunes, checking out the powerful waves, while a few brave kiteboarders skimmed across the water like it was a regular day at the beach.
With the exception of the giant surf, it was a typical Labor Day scene on the outskirts of Hatteras village. And while the beach scene got slowly and naturally back to normal, the CERT crew ensured the rest of the village would soon be “back to normal too.”
“We had a really good group here today — almost 30 volunteers… and [they’ve] done a lot of good work,” says Larry. “…Their efforts definitely make a difference.”