Oct 11, 2016, 10 p.m.
For Ocracoke news, including earlier stories on Hurricane Matthew, click here.
By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke on Tuesday was continuing a major clean-up and damage assessment following the record-breaking, island-wide flooding from Hurricane Matthew and remains closed to visitors.
The Ocracoke Deputy Control Group, a group of county officials, law enforcement officials and business owners who assess emergencies and make recommendations to the Hyde County commissioners, is taking it day-to-day and has been meeting twice a day since Hurricane Matthew left its mark.
County Manager Bill Rich said Tuesday afternoon that there are many variables to consider before reopening. This was the first day non-resident property owners have been able to get to the island to assess their properties.
“There’s no way of knowing how many rental houses are affected,” Rich said. He is asking for FEMA relief but the island needs a certain designation, 1-A, first.
“Walter Jones’ office is working on changing it,” he said. Jones is the Congressional representative for the District 3.
High storm waters in Hatteras are preventing the arrival of food and other vendors to Ocracoke, but that may change tomorrow if the water recedes and the Coast Guard can reestablish three channel markers displaced by the storm. Rich said he hoped the ferries would begin running tomorrow (Wednesday).
On Monday, Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Chief Albert O’Neal made a trip around the island to do a damage assessment.
“He brought back six pages worth of damage properties,” Rich said.
Then, Tuesday afternoon, the fire company responded to a call about a gas tank floating in the sound, Rich said. Later, Ernie Doshier, assistant fire chief, said the volunteers had put a boom around spillage from it.
Speaking of gas, the Beachcomber gas station is currently not selling gas because an igniter got damaged in the flood waters. Sean Death, gas station proprietor, said a supplier is trying to get the part to Hatteras, and if it can’t be brought over on the ferry if they aren’t running, Erick O’Neal will be able to bring it by boat.
The water Sunday following the storm was up to the pump nozzles and several inches inside the building.
With a team effort by staff members of the gas station and the Ocracoke Bar & Grille, which he and his wife, Laurie, own, they were able to clear out damaged goods inside the gas station and opened up today. Sean said they will be open tomorrow for breakfast.
The flood waters tossed an ice machine, among other items, around to the back of the station where the campground is located. Bob Chestnut, owner or Ride the Wind Surf Shop, relayed a similar story, noting that the flood waters transported several railroad tie-sized rails in front of Ocracoke Island Trading Co., which shares the same building, around to the side. It also tossed about a dozen surf boards he had stored upright in the back into what he called “surfboard soup.”
Propane tanks throughout the island got overturned or loose, Chestnut said, and Tuesday was the first day Nathan Spencer, owner of Coastal Gas, who, could arrive with two staffers, to right the errant tanks and assist businesses.
Chip Stevens, proprietor of Blackbeard’s Lodge on Back Road, was dealing with a major flooding of the first floor of the historic hotel. The water had apparently been so strong it knocked out a leg of the baby grand piano in his lobby and also moved a heavy table in his entryway.
Across the street, the Back Porch, on higher ground, water had gotten up to the deck walkway but not into the building, said owner Daphne Bennink.
The Pony Island Hotel was fielding calls from visitors.
“I probably could have filled this motel up this weekend,” said Candy Gaskill between phone calls. “We had a little water in the office. We were very fortunate. As soon as the ferries start running, we’re open.”
Indeed, “It could have been worse,” was the catch-phrase of the day as islanders realized how well the island escaped this storm whose floodwaters have exceeded the high of Alex in 2004 and which has been compared to the hurricane of 1944. East of Ocracoke, in the eastern part of the mainland, Matthew has caused death, destruction and power outages, and swollen rivers are expected to unleash more water. (See this story in today’s Washington Post here.)
Rich reported that Justin Gibbs, Hyde County Emergency Services Director, had measured the storm surge at 4.7 feet on Sunday and at 3.5 feet on Monday.
At the Island Ragpicker, Teresa O’Neal had a bit of water in one of her back rooms, but was using fans to dry it out.
“Economically, it’s strangling,” she said about the storm, echoing many business owners.
Few other businesses were open on the island as cleanup continued.
Under a sunny, mild day, Alan Sutton, owner of Tradewinds Tackle, was riding his bicycle around assisting where he could, and wishing for the visitors to return.
“October is the best fishing month,” he said. “October and May.”
Ocracoke School will continue to be closed on Wednesday. WOVV, Ocracoke’s community radio station, lost its antenna tower and can be heard only online for the time being at wovv.org.
The Ocracoke Civic and Business Association Meet the Candidates night scheduled for tomorrow (Oct. 12), is rescheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, in the Community Center.
The following is the latest advisory (No. 9, issued at 3 p.m.) from Hyde County Emergency Services:
The National Weather Service has issued a Coastal Flood Advisory for Ocracoke and counties adjacent to the Pamlico Sound for minor sound side flooding through late this evening. Continued large swells will produce dangerous rip currents especially north of Cape Lookout. High water levels across the Pamlico Sound will lead to minor sound side flooding for adjacent land areas.
The NC DOT Ferry Division began runs from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island this morning following their regular winter schedule. At this time residents, only non-resident property owners, vendors and essential service personnel are allowed access to the village. Please be prepared to show documentation of these statuses to gain access to the island. Individuals wishing to gain access will need to have the appropriate re-entry tag or they will be required to produce evidence of property ownership or residency.
The Ferry Division is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard to restore service on the Hatteras route and will open that route as soon as possible. Additionally, Dare County law enforcement officers will be enforcing the entry/re-entry priorities and restrictions, established by Hyde County, at their checkpoints on N.C. Highway 12.
Hyde County officials will be issuing a debris removal notice to proceed. See the graphic below for instructions on how debris should be separated and placed within the NCDOT right-of-way. Please do not transport storm debris to the convenience sites as the facilities have limited capacity for the volumes expected. In addition, the convenience sites in Swan Quarter and Fairfield were closed due to flooding, and there is substantial flooding on the roadways leading to the Sladesville convenience site.
The Fairfield Drainage District has declared a drainage emergency due to inundation from the Alligator River which is impacting mitigation structures in the district. Hyde County is coordinating with the Fairfield Drainage District and Mattamuskeet Association to identify and obtain resources for their response and recovery efforts. There is standing water on NC Hwy 94 between Fairfield and Columbia at the Northwest Fork. NCDOT and Hyde County urge commuters to find alternate routes to and from Hyde County.
Tideland EMC reports services have been fully restored, however, power went out again around 8:30 Tuesday evening. A text message from Tideland said they believe the problem is related to salt accumulation on lines and equipment. Ocracoke was without power earlier today for three hours, from noon to 3 p.m., while a broken pole on Highway 12 was replaced.
If traveling throughout North Carolina, please refer to https://www.ncdot.gov/traffictravel/ or https://tims.ncdot.gov/tims/regionsummary.aspx for the latest road closures and routes open to travel. If using the TIMS site, you will have to select the region or individual counties you are traveling through to obtain specific information regarding your travel plans.
The county urges motorists not to drive through flood waters or on flooded roads. Water only two feet deep can sweep away most automobiles. Death can occur as a result of careless or unsuspecting motorists who attempt to drive through flooded roads. If your vehicle is flooded, please disconnect the battery cables to prevent it from shorting out and causing a fire.
Please be advised, flood waters may contain sewage and other harmful contaminants. Keep children and pets out of flood waters.
The Hyde County Health Department urges all to be educated about safety information following major emergencies such as Hurricane Matthew. Click here for the link.
Peter Vankevich contributed to this story.