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By Connie Leinbach
Cape Hatteras EMC and Tideland EMC announced today that the worst-case scenario for Ocracoke and Hatteras has occurred—all three lines of the main power transmission cables were severed early Thursday morning.
This happened when PCL Construction, the contractors building the new Bonner Bridge, accidentally drove a steel piling through the underground cable at the southern end at the Oregon Inlet early Thursday morning. That cable powers all of Hatteras and Ocracoke.
As a result of the power outage, mandatory evacuation remains in effect for all visitors to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands until an adequate power supply can be provided to support them.
Only individuals who are Ocracoke residents, seasonal residents, non-resident property owners, vendors and emergency personnel who display a valid re-entry pass, or who possess some form of documentation proving residency and/or employment, will be allowed access to the island.
Bill Rich, Hyde County manager, who is on the Ocracoke Advisory Control Group that has been meeting two times daily since the outage occurred, said after this morning’s meeting that the electric companies are looking at three options:
One is to repair the cable; the second one is to find replacement cable of about 300 yards.
Simultaneously, all are now trying to accomplish the third option, which is to bring in approximately 15 additional portable generators onto Hatteras to power both islands enough so that visitors can come back.
“They have to find them first,” Rich said about the generators following the meeting. “The state is helping.” He does not know how long this will take.
Powered by CHEC, Hatteras Island is working under their five generators though under normal conditions, both islands are served by the three-phase cable that was severed.
On Thursday, Tideland EMC brought in a 1-megawatt, diesel-fueled generator that began powering the lighthouse area of the island later that night. On Friday, two additional 2-megawatt generators arrived from Atlanta to power the other two island circuits.
By Saturday afternoon, the entire island had received power, but residents were restricted to using it only for refrigerators and fans to see how much of a load they drew. Those businesses being powered by generators were asked to stay on them for the time being.
This morning, Tideland EMC, which powers Ocracoke, announced that all residents could use electric for any purpose and businesses could go off their generators..
Rich said that of the 5 megawatts available from the three portable generators, the island now is drawing 40 percent. Tideland wants to see how much additional electricity they can accommodate.
In the high season when the island is full, as it was Thursday, Rich said the island draws about 8 megawatts.
The N.C. Ferry Division has announced that the Hatteras/Ocracoke, Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferry schedules have been cut back until the mandatory evacutions order has been lifted. To see the current schedule, click here.
Meanwhile, local businesses have lost thousands of dollars a day, as have their employees in wages.
“August and September are my biggest times,” said Anna Rucker, owner of The Sunglass Shop. “People cancelling their vacations will affect me long-term.”
Darlene Styron, owner of the Sweet Tooth/Fig Tree Bakery, has two generators to keep her provisions cold, but on Saturday, she was giving away her prepared foods—salads and baked goods—to residents and for the Meals on Wheels program.
“I don’t want to throw it out,” she said.
Styron, who also is an insurance agent, noted that businesses’ insurance policies may not cover these losses since the outage was not due to a natural disaster.
Eduardo Perez, owner of Eduardo’s Taco Stand beside the Variety Store, lost all of his food since he didn’t have a generator to refrigerate it.
Pattie Johnson Plyler, manager of the Ocracoke Seafood Co., said they may be open tomorrow selling what they have including crab meat.
Farris O’Neal said this is peak time for his businesses comprising of parasailing, charter fishing and boat rentals. “I was nearly 100 percent booked for the next two weeks,” he said. His commercial Native Seafood business will try to be open tomorrow.
Judy Eifert, co-owner with her husband Doug of Dajio Restaurant, couldn’t say how much per day the restaurant has lost but estimated it in the thousands and more in the food they had to throw out because they don’t have a generator to power the coolers.
“The freezer was OK, but we had a tremendous amount of food loss,” she said. “It took us two days to clean it all out.”
Then there’s all the time the employees had to put in prepping the food, plus the farmers that grew it and then the wages the employees lost.
“They’re the ones I’m worried about,” she said. Down the road, she might get something back from insurance, but the employees might not. “It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
But as soon as full power is restored and visitors are allowed back, Dajio will reopen.
“You can’t think too far ahead in the restaurant business,” she said. “We’re taking it day-to-day. We still have the rest of the season.”
Ocracoke Oyster Co., which has an industrial generator, turned it off this morning after they got the message from Tideland and went on island power.
“We’re groovy,” said co-owner Janille Turner.
They’re open today until 8 or 9 p.m. and will be open during the week from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m.
Off-island music bands have been canceled since they can’t get here.
Dave Tolson, manager of the island’s water plant, said the visitor evacuation helps reduce the energy used to pump the 250,000 to 300,000 gallons a day that’s used when the island is at full capacity.
The water plant had been operating on its own diesel generator since Thursday, but now can go back to using Tideland-supplied electricity.
Additional hardships for the community were the ATM machine at First National Bank being out-of-order and that the back-up generator for WOVV 90.1 FM, Ocracoke’s community radio, failed at start-up and is currently off the air. An assessment will be made tomorrow to see how it can be back on-air. Frequent power cut-offs, even for short periods, cause problems to broadcasting including online at wovv.org.
David Scott Esham, owner of the Pony Island Motel, said he didn’t even want to think about how much he’s losing per day during this crisis.
“You don’t get this back,” he said about the lost high-season revenue. “In two more weeks, it drops off.”
Some of the seasonal employees hired by local companies have decided to leave, said Styron, adding that will be a problem when the power comes back on and visitors return.
Paula and Michael Schramel, owners of the Flying Melon Café, are happy they purchased a generator this winter that kicked in when the power went out Thursday.
They are remaining open tonight and again Thursday through Sunday.
Paula also said her seasonal employees are worried about whether they will continue to have work in the next few weeks.
“I want to keep people employed,” she said.
With only a few more weeks left in the high season, delays in full electric service of a week or more will aggravate what is already an economic disaster, not to mention the hardship on both the visitors forced to leave and those visitors who will not be able to make it, at least for a week or very possibly more.
Whether there will be some financial compensation for lost revenue remains to be seen.
–Peter Vankevich contributed to this story.