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By Peter Vankevich
Visitors began to trickle back to Ocracoke starting Friday afternoon and Saturday as the island reopened after an accident at the Bonner Bridge on Thursday, July 27, caused a major power outage resulting in closing the island to visitors for a week.
Several stores on Saturday reported just a few visitors and sales and the roads remained fairly quiet. Lodgings, normally full at this time, had a fraction of bookings for the weekend as many visitors canceled due to the uncertainty of when the island would reopen.
As important as it is to spread the word that a mandatory evacuation has been invoked, it’s just as important to let all know that the island has reopened. Word spread by press releases and social media with postings by many individuals and businesses on Facebook.
The Ocracoke Civic and Business Association posted on its Facebook page a graphic with: “Ocracoke Island is open. The shells have really piled up without you.”
This unusual power outage drew national attention, including articles–some with the misinformation that there was no power the whole time–in the New York Times and Washington Post, on local and national television, and online in several national news organizations.
While electric companies and construction crews worked around the clock to resolve the crisis that affected Hatteras and Ocracoke, Tideland and Cape Hatteras EMCs brought in back-up generators to support only the communities, but those generators were not sufficient for visitors.
So what occurred on the quiet island during this unexpected down time?
Although most activity was idled, some businesses, including the post office, the gas station, the convenience site, and the Variety Store, didn’t miss a beat. The ferries ran, albeit in the fewer runs winter schedule and the National Park Service was open except for the campground.
A few restaurants stayed open on their own generator power until Tideland EMC fully powered three portable generators by Sunday, after which all who wanted to could turn on everything.
But some restaurants stayed closed until full power was restored and some lost all of their food and revenues for the week. Many workers lost more than a week of high-season wages.
Several activities were hastily organized that provided a combination of support, information and fun.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hyde County government set up a mobile response station in the Community Center with representatives from several departments to discuss the issues relating to fallout from the outage. Ocracoke Health Center provided information and an opportunity to check blood pressure. Forms for tallying economic loss were handed out.
Afterwards, the Salvation Army of Washington, N.C., and Bill Ellis Barbeque of Wilson, N.C., took over the front lawn of the Pony Island Motel to host a free dinner giving out barbecue and hamburger meals. Picnic tables were set up across the street at the Ocracoke Volunteer Department. Danny Kornegay gave out 150 watermelons and sweet potatoes grown on his Kornegay Family Farms in Princeton and island DJ Gabriel Navarette provided music.
Hyde County Manager Bill Rich said the idea for the gathering came up Sunday in one of the twice-daily Ocracoke Control Group meetings. He called his friend Will Faircloth about it.
“Will made it happen,” Rich said.
The event drew more than 600 of islanders, many of whom would normally have been working.
“It’s heartwarming the way the community pulls together,” said Beverly Meeker.
As people formed a long line, they were appreciative of the efforts. Storyteller Donald Davis and his wife, Merle, were among those in line.
“At a time like this, people normally stay home, so this is a good time to get out and get cheered up a bit,” he said.
“It’s wonderful to be here,” added Merle.
Tom Cain, who recently moved to the island full-time, was eating on his golf cart.
“This is great, free food,” he said as he dove into the barbecue. “It’s nice to see so many people out.”
Charles Temple, the high school English teacher, said it was a great idea to get the community together.
“Everybody’s been kind of doing their own thing or home resting up,” he said. “So this is a good excuse to come out and see some people.”
A bit later, the Coyote Den, located in Community Square and run by Marcy Brenner and Lou Castro, had a free open mic for anyone to perform.
The den was filled with an appreciative audience and 33 people viewed online for free from Concert Window that broadcasts their regular concerts. Brenner was thrilled with how it turned out.
“Every performer brought their whole self and magic happened in some unique way,” she said.
She and Castro provided musical back-up for several of the somewhat nervous musicians–adults and children–not used to performing in front of an audience. Dajio restaurateur Doug Eifert, on his small acoustic guitar, played the Bill Withers’ 1971 hit song “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
“I’m pretty good with the A minor,” Eifert quipped while tuning up.
Desiree Christa Ricker performed with one of her students, Paul Jordan, who played keyboard and drums. Ricker, a professional musician and teacher, also soloed with some of her original songs.
“Lou and I feel we have succeeded in creating a space in which people feel safe and inspired,” Brenner said. “So a nervous adult beginner and a proficient young classical guitarist, who is recovering from an accident, both feel safe and inspired. The event was a smash!”
She hopes to have more open mics down the road to provide public performances for all and especially young people learning music.
Wednesday evening, Ocracoke Alive gave a free performance of their new show “A Dingbatter’s Guide to Ocracoke” at the Deepwater Theater.
On Wednesday and Thursday, with the support from the nonprofit Albemarle Commission, the Ocracoke Assembly Church of God, opened its Bread of Life Food Pantry for a special food distribution.
Boxes containing meals for a week for two and snack packs were handed out. According to volunteer Andrea Cody, 4,000 pounds of food was distributed.
On Friday morning in the Community Center, Rich and Assistant County Manager Kris Noble outlined a plan for the county to get restitution money lost by businesses, nonprofits and individuals to more than 70 islanders who attended the meeting.
Afterwards, Noble went on the air at the community radio station, WOVV (90.1 FM and online wovv.org), to further discuss the restitution plan. Gov. Roy Cooper called in to show his support and describe the efforts the state has done to resolve the crisis. Rich had earlier noted in the community meeting how helpful the governor and his staff were in getting full power restored as fast as it was.
An evacuated island from a hurricane usually means lots of water in the village and downed trees. To have one with beautiful weather will long be remembered.
Connie Leinbach contributed to this story.
What a wonderful story!!! Bill Ellis continues to be one of the most considerate and thoughtful people in North Carolina. I am always reading about something wonderful he is doing. So happy life is getting back to normal at your beautiful island!!!
Enjoyed this story so much!
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