Special report by David Hallac, CHNS superintendent
Hurricane Dorian has left its mark on many areas of our parks and caused hardships for our communities and staff.
Park staff put in an amazing effort to prepare the parks consistent with severe weather plans and made extra efforts to protect vehicles, equipment, buildings, historic structures, and natural and cultural resources.
The National Park Service secured locations for staff to evacuate from park housing and showed strong support for the inter-agency efforts led by Dare and Hyde Counties. I represented the National Park Service on the Dare and Hyde County Control groups and I really appreciate the leadership, organization, and partnership shown by our county partners.
Many NPS staff worked during the storm as part of the Dare County Emergency Operations Center and in the field assisting the Dare and Hyde County Sherriff’s offices.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Wright Brothers National Memorial have trees down and shingles missing from some structures, but the parks generally escaped with only minor impacts. The effects of the hurricane were most significant to park areas and communities on southern Hatteras Island and Ocracoke. Over the last two days, I met with staff, citizens, business owners, and county partners and visited most areas of both Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. The islands appear to have experienced up to 7 feet of water above the ground in many residential and park areas.
Shortly after the Dare County Control Board meeting on Saturday, I traveled the length of Hatteras Island with Dare County partners and provide you with the following assessment:
The dunes were generally intact and beach erosion was unremarkable. Remnants of the storm surge, a surge that many say rivaled the surge during Hurricane Mathew, became increasingly clear the further south we traveled. Most of our visitor areas suffered minor to moderate impacts. Many homes and businesses between Buxton and Hatteras Village were flooded and the high-water marks showed several feet of water in some structures. The Cape Hatteras Secondary School was badly flooded and the Superintendent of Schools reports that one third of the structure is damaged.
Cape Hatteras Electrical Cooperative staff have performed heroic work and linemen from around the region were busy restoring the transmission network. As they always do, the North Carolina Department of Transportation was ahead of the game; their highways staff tirelessly removed sand from the roads, rebuilt protective dunes, and restored transportation to the island very quickly. Some of our NPS employees or their families and friends may have experienced major flooding, especially in Hatteras Village, and we will do what we can to support them.
As I rode the ferry from Swan Quarter on Sunday with Chief Ranger Boone Vandzura and dozens of emergency response staff–the Red Cross, and disaster volunteers from around the country–the mood was somber and the gravity of the situation was intense.
District Ranger Ed Fuller brought me through residential neighborhoods to show me the devastation that most of our staff and Eastern National staff have experienced in their homes.
In many cases, everything our staff and Ocracoke residents owns was flooded by several feet of water from Pamlico Sound. I counted over 130 flooded vehicles just in the NPS parking lot across from the Visitor Center; certainly, there are hundreds more on the island. These impacts are serious. We will do everything we can to give our Ocracoke staff the time they need to take care of their families and recover. Please keep them in your thoughts.
Highway 12 on Ocracoke near South dock is badly damaged along two 500-foot sections, rendering the road unusable. I watched waves break over the crumpled asphalt during the high tide.
We have numerous meetings with NCDOT over the next two days to put our heads together and find a way to restore transportation, but it will take time. This will impact people’s lives. Something as simple as going to the grocery store, doctor, or a high school sports game has now gone from an hour ferry ride to a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride plus travel time from Swan Quarter to a nearby city. I am grateful for the dedication of NCDOT’s Ferry Division. Their efforts to help islanders evacuate and now bring emergency responders to the rescue has been impressive.
Cape Lookout National Seashore and Moores Creek National Battlefield
I have been in constant communications with Superintendent Jeff West at Cape Lookout. Jeff’s staff are safe and recovering from storm impacts. His preliminary assessments show major impacts in locations such as the Long Point cabin camps and historic Portsmouth Village. The National Park Service’s Eastern Incident Management Team will also be supporting Cape Lookout in their assessment of damages and stabilization of park resources. Superintendent Mathew Woods reports that the Moores Creek National Battlefield team is also safe. The park came through with very few impacts and we are grateful that they have been able to resume normal operations. We will continue to work together to support each other over the coming weeks and months.
Following on the heels of the excellent work of the park’s local Incident Management Team, led by Chief Ranger Boone Vandzura and many employees in the field, hurricane recovery operations have transitioned to the Eastern Incident Management Team (EIMT) led by Mark Musitano.
The EIMT has brought in a team of staff including a hotshot crew that have already done amazing work to remove downed trees and other debris around FORA and in Buxton. Yesterday, they delivered vehicles and generators to Ocracoke and will set up a spike camp on Ocracoke to support recovery efforts. Park staff are now working side-by-side with Hyde County and N.C. officials and emergency managers on Ocracoke Island. Teams have already begun assessments of the park areas including roads, buildings, lighthouses, beaches and dunes. All of these efforts are vital to allowing the park to open for safe and enjoyable experiences to the public.
Priorities for recovery
I have directed the recovery team to focus on the following priorities:
1. Accountability and safety of our staff,
2. Assisting Dare and Hyde counties with humanitarian efforts that support local communities,
3. Initiating assessments, and
4. Reopening parks and areas to America’s public.
Please keep an eye on the tropics; while we are relieved that Dorian has passed, storm season is still upon us and we will plan and prepare again if we need to protect the parks and get our team out of harm’s way.
Please visit the park websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for updates to continued closures and areas that we are able to safely open to the public.