Fast moving dark clouds at sunset at Hatteras Inlet. Dec. 12, 2019. Photo: P. Vankevich

As of mid-December, it’s been more than three months since Hurricane Dorian flooded Ocracoke Island.

Signs of a changed island will be much in evidence as visitors have been allowed back as of Dec. 2.

Reopening the island while it is still under repair has been a source of contention on the island.

Some have said it was too early because the ferries still can’t accommodate all of the trucks needed to bring building supplies let alone the addition of visitors. Or, the place still looks terrible with hollowed out or demolished buildings and totaled vehicles and debris still piled along the roads.

In support of reopening, island businesses and workers need the income that visitors will bring.

A number of houses and business are being torn down due to irreparable damage.

Many are rebuilding and some have changed locations: The Oyster Company has moved to the former Ocracoke Bar & Grille building and will reopen in the spring.  But its former building–the original, iconic Captain Ben’s–was torn down Nov. 27. Dajio has torn down the bar area and will rebuild in time for spring.

At 7.4 feet, Dorian on Sept. 6 brought the highest storm surge the island has ever seen. It took many by surprise.

And this damage—some minor; some devastating–has brought a pain to the community that it has not heretofore had to deal with. 

Recovery and getting supplies to rebuild in a place with access only by ferries that are subject to the whims of weather have been frustrating for many.

Many island businesses have upped their online shopping game.

Some businesses have made amazing physical progress. The Pony Island Motel suffered flooding to all of its ground-floor rooms. In the days right after Dorian, mountains of mattresses and sheet rock piled up in the parking lot while the upper floor rooms in the new section were rented to construction crews.

But owner David Scott Esham and his teams have been diligently working since Sept. 6 to open all of their rooms. 

Three months after this historic storm, rebuilding is much in evidence. A few islanders who were forced to vacate are back in their homes. Other homes and businesses will have longer rebuild times.

It will be interesting how visitors react to a new Ocracoke, but we caution visitors from asking locals about this life-changing event.

Though the slogan “Ocracoke Strong” is heralded, many islanders are still fragile, with good days and bad days, and are not looking forward to rehashing the pain over and over again.

As one islander noted in a recent meeting, “I just don’t want to talk about it.”

Because of this pain, the Observer has refrained from publishing and posting online too many photos of the debris and demolished homes and businesses.

We were contacted by one business owner and took down a photo of their place.  Even though it was news, we live here, too, and feel we need to be sensitive to our fellow islanders’ pain.

So, as visitors return, like the courtesy of not staring at someone with a disability, we ask for some tact when you see our state of dishabille.

This disaster has shown the amazing number of friends Ocracoke Island has near and far.

The outpouring of support with goods, services and money has been an incredible blessing and has helped with local morale.

Yes, the island has changed, and we and other coastal communities can expect more.

How we deal with that on multiple levels is what matters.

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  1. This is such a kind, insightful and understanding article. The Observer is lucky to have you and so are your readers. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for some great suggestions and ways of dealing with this heartfelt pain. My husband and I are retiring in June and will be living on the island where our granddaughter and son live. We are coming for Christmas and I look forward to seeing friends and family as well as work friends from Gaffers. We wish all Happy Holidays from Kathy and Steve Modlin.

  3. Your articles are so heart warming. I cry reading them. My husband and I will be on Ocracoke the end of March, can’t wait to come home.

  4. We have been in love with Ocracoke since first visiting the island in 1975. We stayed at Blackbeards Lodge and were good friends with its former owner Doward Brugh. My heart is broken for this tiny piece of paradise and I hope for the best recovery it’s residents could get. When the time is right we will head there again and tromp the wild beaches and eat at the wonderful restaraunts. Here’s to you Ocracoke!

  5. We have been winter visitors since 1991, sometimes for just a week, sometimes longer. Still trying to decide about this year. We think about the island and its people all the time, especially since the hurricane. So appreciate the Observer for keeping us informed. Heartfelt wishes for happy holidays to all. The healing will take time, but there are people like us from afar who care and wish you all the best.

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