Tourists evac­u­ate North Carolina is­land; lo­cal busi­nesses hurt

The Sentinel-Record - - OBITUARIES - SEANNA ADCOX

A “steady stream” of tourists left a North Carolina is­land Satur­day un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders prompted by a wide­spread power out­age, wip­ing out a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of the lu­cra­tive sum­mer months for lo­cal busi­nesses.

It could take days or weeks to re­pair an un­der­ground trans­mis­sion line dam­aged early Thurs­day by con­struc­tion crews work­ing on a new bridge be­tween is­lands. The con­struc­tion com­pany drove a steel cas­ing into an un­der­ground trans­mis­sion line, caus­ing black­outs on Ocra­coke and Hat­teras is­lands.

Cars lined up Fri­day to get on fer­ries, the only way off Ocra­coke Is­land, af­ter about 10,000 tourists were or­dered Thurs­day evening to evac­u­ate. A sec­ond or­der for vis­i­tors to Hat­teras Is­land, south of Ore­gon In­let, meant up to 60,000 ad­di­tional peo­ple had to evac­u­ate start­ing Satur­day, pri­mar­ily north over the in­let bridge.

As of 2 p.m. Satur­day, North Carolina fer­ries had evac­u­ated about 3,800 peo­ple and 1,500 cars from both is­lands, ac­cord­ing to Gov. Roy Cooper’s of­fice.

Cooper said he called lo­cal of­fi­cials to pledge state help.

“We’ll do all we can to get re­pairs mov­ing,” he said in a re­lease.

Ex­ca­va­tion at the site re­vealed Satur­day that one of three un­der­ground trans­mis­sion ca­bles that sup­ply the is­lands’ power is miss­ing a 2-foot sec­tion. A timetable for re­pairs won’t be known un­til crews de­ter­mine whether ei­ther of the other ca­bles, still buried as of Satur­day af­ter­noon, was dam­aged, ac­cord­ing to Cape Hat­teras Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive.

Dare County spokes­woman Dorothy Hester had no es­ti­mate for how many peo­ple still needed to leave Hat­teras Is­land.

“We re­al­ize peo­ple are dis­ap­pointed. They brought a lot of stuff here. They’re pack­ing up and mov­ing out,” she said. “While dis­ap­pointed, they’re go­ing to make their way home.”

Roughly 80 per­cent of the is­lands’ tourism stems from va­ca­tion rentals, and the or­der co­in­cides with the cus­tom­ary Satur­day turnover for weekly home rentals, so those peo­ple would be leav­ing any­way. The big ques­tion is when vis­i­tors can get to homes al­ready rented for up­com­ing weeks in the height of tourism sea­son, said Lee Net­tles, di­rec­tor of the Outer Banks Vis­i­tors Bu­reau.

While vil­lages north of the bridge may ben­e­fit from some dis­placed tourists, oth­ers “got the mes­sage and are stay­ing home,” he said.

The or­der bar­ring in­bound tourists did not ap­ply to Hat­teras Is­land’s roughly 6,000 year­round res­i­dents or to other prop­erty own­ers.

“Res­i­dents are fine. We all know how to pull to­gether,” said An­gela Con­ner Tawes, man­ager of Con­ner’s Su­per­mar­ket, a third-gen­er­a­tion gro­cery store in Bux­ton, which de­liv­ered about 90 bar­beque sand­wiches to util­ity work­ers for lunch. “But fi­nan­cially for us, los­ing time in Au­gust is a big deal. This is when we make our money for the year. We’re just hold­ing our breath and wait­ing.”

As of Satur­day af­ter­noon, tourists were still shop­ping at the store, which has kept reg­u­lar hours thanks to its two large gen­er­a­tors. One un­known is whether the store will get its Tues­day sched­uled de­liv­ery, Tawes said.

“Un­til we know some­thing, we’re try­ing not to fret too much,” she said.

The is­land’s reg­u­lar sum­mer fish fry went on Satur­day evening since or­ga­niz­ers or­dered the fish be­fore the evac­u­a­tion call was made Fri­day. Now they’re just hop­ing to re­coup their costs. They had fore­gone the nor­mal plate fees, feed­ing who­ever showed up with what­ever they want to pay, if any­thing.

“It’s bet­ter for it to be eaten than go to waste,” said Mary El­lon Bal­lance, pres­i­dent of the Ladies’ Aux­il­iary of Hat­teras Vil­lage Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment, one of four groups that hold the weekly fundraiser. “This is like a dry hur­ri­cane for us — the af­ter­math of a hur­ri­cane with­out the de­struc­tion.”

Bal­ance said Satur­day that they had a great turnout for the event.

The util­ity is sup­ply­ing tem­po­rary power to res­i­dents, busi­nesses and emer­gency ser­vices with diesel and por­ta­ble gen­er­a­tors.

But con­ser­va­tion mea­sures were still manda­tory, which in­clude bar­ring the run­ning of air con­di­tion­ers and hot tubs, Hester said.

Busi­ness own­ers were up­set that the dis­as­ter was caused by hu­man er­ror, not Mother Na­ture.

“It’s a hard pill to swal­low that some­one for­got where the power cable was,” said Ja­son Wells, owner of Ja­son’s Restau­rant on Ocra­coke Is­land. “How do you for­get where the power cable is?”

Wells said his restau­rant, closed by the out­age, is miss­ing out on at least $5,000 a day in sales. He said many sea­sonal busi­nesses close for one-third of the year, mak­ing the sum­mer months es­sen­tial to their bot­tom lines. His 25 work­ers typ­i­cally make be­tween $75 and $250 a day.

“So when you take this hit in July and fac­tor in that you’re only open eight months out of the year, it’s big,” he said. “It’s a lot more than peo­ple even re­al­ize.”

He es­ti­mated that to­tal losses for shops, ho­tels and res­tau­rants on the is­land could eas­ily top $100,000 per day.

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