Tourists evacuate Ocracoke, Hatteras amid power outage
Crowds forced to leave at the height of the summer vacation season
The lights are out, the AC is off and vacation is over for thousands of tourists slowly making their way off a remote island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
“It’s going to be huge. The island was at capacity when all this went down, and this is usually the busiest time of the year,” said Donnie Shumate, a Hyde County spokesman. “It will be a major hit economically depending on how long it lasts.”
As of Friday afternoon, 1,849 people and 683 cars had been evacuated from Ocracoke, Shumate said. The remote island is only accessible by ferry, making it more difficult for tourists to evacuate.
The power outages hit Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, but guests are only being evacuated from the latter. Calls are flooding vacation rental offices as customers scramble to comply with the evacuation order and plan for blackouts.
“I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring to be honest,” said Shannon Kinser, marketing director for Sun Realty. “There’s just a lot of uncertainty.”
“People have a lot of questions, whether it’s arrivals for this weekend or departures. Should they leave early, should they delay? A lot of this information we don’t have yet,” she said.
Rental companies can typically expect a new crop of renters each weekend. Vacationers in Hatteras are being asked not to use water heaters and may not have air conditioning, but Kinser said people are coming down anyway.
Refunds for guests who leave early or don’t come will be decided case-by-case, Kinser said.
Vacationers in Ocracoke being forced to evacuate may be able to make travel insurance claims. If they don’t leave, they will be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, according to statement from Hyde County. Tourists aren’t allowed on inbound ferries, which could disrupt the arrival of new guests this weekend.
The blackouts are forcing businesses to close, potentially for a few weeks, during their most profitable time of the year.
Leslie Lanier, owner of Books to Be Red, an independent bookstore on Ocracoke, has already seen her business take a hit.
“We’re missing, right now, the top of our season,” she said. “Even a few days is going to hurt, but if it lasts for a few weeks it will be devastating and there will probably be a few businesses that end up closing.”
The North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division has suspended priority boarding for all vessels leaving Ocracoke and waived all tolls for ferries on trips between Ocracoke and Cedar Island or Swan Quarter. Officials advised evacuees driving through Hatteras to get north of Oregon Inlet before stopping for gas because Hatteras is also suffering from blackouts.
Vacationers head north Friday on Hatteras Island, their time off interrupted by a power outage.