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By Richard Taylor
It wasn’t The Last Train to Clarksville, but when the MV Swan Quarter with some 20 vehicles left Silver Lake at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, it certainly was the last evacuation ferry to leave Ocracoke before Hurricane Florence’s visit to the Outer Banks later this week.
Riding inside one of the island’s two ambulances, two Hyde County EMS technicians were among the last to board.
As the Swan Quarter’s foghorn blew one last time for the week, Nathan Modlin was busy mooring his houseboat between the new passenger ferry’s floating-barge and an existing NPS dock. He had moved his boat from the Community Square docks earlier. Modlin will be at WOVV during the storm to make announcements and make sure the station stays on the air, even with generator power. About 15 boats of various sizes were tied up at the NPS docks Wednesday morning.
With Florence’s new altered westerly path, Modlin doesn’t think the island will get near as much flooding or potential damage as initially predicted.
“I’ve been through 15 hurricanes in my eight plus years here, and I don’t think it will be that bad,” he said, climbing back into this canoe for the short paddle back to his houseboat. “I don’t think we’ll even lose power.”
Should power be lost to the island, Tideland Electric Member Cooperative’s longtime resident lineman Bobby O’Neal and his helper will be ready to work. Surveying the island from his pickup truck Wednesday morning, O’Neal said Tideland would have to use its diesel generator “only if the weather gets really bad here.”
Among the docks along Irvin Garrish Highway, only the Meander sailboat from Belhaven remained moored at the Down Creek Gallery and Condominium docks. Only two boats remained tied up on the east side of Silver Lake.
Also Wednesday, Tommy Hutcherson grilled hamburgers on the Variety Store porch for all and handed out cheesecake as a few customers mingled. After Florence hits, Hutcherson will open as weather permits.
“We don’t ever close unless the weather gets super, super bad,” he said, noting that the store would probably close at 5 p.m. daily until the Florence passes.
Hutcherson thinks the island will weather Florence just fine and estimated that about 200 residents remained on the island. Among the holdouts Wednesday, many were biking or walking dogs, as if nothing out of the ordinary was about to happen.
While vehicles are parked alongside roads all over island, a few dozen cars, assorted large vehicles, the school activity bus and over a dozen trailered boats remained parked at the large, traditional “high ground” NPS parking lot.
Other vehicles are parked along the backside of Silver Lake Drive and in a vacant lot off that road and around the island.
Surveying the scene from her golf cart at the end of Silver Lake Drive, islander Traci Stafford described a special Facebook page she just created late Tuesday night titled the “Ocracoke anti Florence roll call” so “those of us remaining on the island can keep in touch with each other.” The new page already has several posts and pictures.
In an interview earlier Wednesday morning on WOVV, Ocracoke’s County Commissioner Tom Pahl urged anyone who wanted to evacuate to take that last 9:30 a.m. ferry to Swan Quarter. Pahl said he still had things to do before the hurricane hits but would stay in regular contact with the Hyde Co. Emergency Operations Center in Swan Quarter.
On a sadder note, Pahl announced the sudden death of Hyde County building inspector Jerry Hardison in Swan Quarter Tuesday.
Ocracoke School physical education teacher Adam “Coach B” Burleson was on the first Tuesday morning evacuation ferry to Cedar Island–the MV Carteret–when it stalled in Bigfoot Slough just after leaving Silver Lake. Burleson said the vessel limped back to its harbor slip where it remained all day until ferry personnel finally fixed the engine problem without a regular ferry mechanic available. Eventually, the Carteret made its run later in the afternoon.
As delays and frustration mounted due to the Carteret, many drivers turned around at Silver Lake and headed to the Hatteras Ferry terminal at South Dock (at the north end of the island), which was never crowded all day Tuesday, with its many regular runs to Hatteras.
Still, ferry personnel worked diligently for three days to evacuate everyone who wished to leave the island from both Silver Lake and the Hatteras Terminal at South Dock. Since the mandatory evacuation began early Monday afternoon, the Ferry Division staff evacuated 2,181 people and transported 1,074 vehicles from Ocracoke on the Hatteras, Cedar Island and Swan Quarter routes until the last run this morning.