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By Peter Vankevich
An evacuation-weary Ocracoke endured a second visitor boot this week as Hurricane Maria–at its peak a Category 5 storm–devastated many islands, especially Dominica and Puerto Rico, slowly worked its way north along the eastern seaboard.
Although well out to sea, the size of the storm assured that the Outer Banks would be affected. The Ocracoke Advisory Control Board, in an emergency meeting Sept. 24, recommended a mandatory evacuation for visitors effective at 5 a.m. Monday, Sept. 25, which was quickly approved by the Hyde County Commissioners. The next day, Dare County ordered visitors off Hatteras Island.
“It was a tough call,” Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner, said in a Facebook post. “There are 15 to 20 people involved in the decision to evacuate, including a good number of well-respected community members who care greatly about both the safety of our visitors as well as the viability of our businesses.
“In the end, it was a matter of balancing the safety of our visitors and the value of their property against value of not disrupting the normal flow of business. We truly regret the effect this has on all of our businesses. This one wasn’t easy.”
In addition to flooding on both islands and overwash on Highway 12, high winds caused ferry service to be suspended Monday afternoon for Cedar Island. All ferries were suspended the next day and were out of service for two days.
After Maria moved out to sea Sept. 28, the evacuation order was lifted and visitors began returning immediately.
This was the second mandatory evacuation for the island this season.
Early in the morning of July 27 crews rebuilding the Bonner Bridge dropped a steel casing into the ground damaging the three main electric transmission lines feeding Hatteras and Ocracoke islands causing a week-long blackout and evacuation of visitors.
The economic impact of these events for both businesses and workers has been huge.
PCL Construction set up a forms claim on its website for those seeking compensation for the July outage, and several lawsuits, by individuals and class-action, have been filed in state and federal courts.
Court dates for these lawsuits are pending.