By Connie Leinbach
What was it like to go through a devastating hurricane like Dorian that inundated Ocracoke Island three years ago?
The answers might be in a new book, “Ocracoke A.D.,” by Ann Ehringhaus and Heather Johnson.
That’s “After Dorian,” when islanders were mostly shell shocked and for months each day did little more than clean out and repair their flooded homes and businesses.
The two will host a book release at a book signing from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, at Books to be Red.
The 50-page book, designed by the authors and Dawn and Tim Surratt of Henderson, features excerpts of Johnson’s “letters” and Ehringhaus’s photographs on the disaster — two artists’ responses.
“Some of us have to have an artistic response to anything,” Ehringhaus said, “and this was a big, big something.”
Johnson said that in the aftermath she tried to volunteer at the command center in the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department, but it was too intense.
“It was too emotional to be there and see everyone just in distress,” Johnson said. “I have so much respect for the people who were able to be there day in and day out because I think I lasted two days and was like, nope, this is too hard. I have to find a different way.”
While she then helped friends and family recover individually, she also began a Facebook diary.
“Every day was just so intense that it was helpful for me to process that,” she said. “And then I got a lot of really amazing feedback from people which encouraged me to keep doing it.”
Since the house she lives in is raised, Johnson’s experience of the floodwaters the morning of Sept. 6, 2019, was nothing compared to many in the village, including her own family members.
In those days, few islanders had time to sit down and reflect on the disaster.
“So, I know it was helpful for me to sit down every night and put it into words, and I think it was helpful for other people to see (that) they were having a similar experience,” she said.
But the two were having separate responses.
“She started writing, and I gradually began making pictures; no people, all landscapes,” Ehringhaus said. Ann also worked in the community kitchen in the Community Center serving meals.
As the two talked in the Dorian aftermath, they realized their work was complementary.
An Ocracoke native, Johnson wrote about the things that were lost – historic buildings and memories connected with them.
“For people who grew up here, there are so many memories that are connected with a particular porch or a house,” Ehringhaus said. “And when that’s not there, it’s really disorienting. We still have some trees and we’ve got some blooming plants, but a lot of stuff is gone.”
The photographs were edited to look like old glass plate images, with a sense of timelessness that seemed appropriate after the storm, she said.
But the places in Ehringhaus’s photos are not identified.
“We did not include the locations of the photos so that people can interact with them if they want to figure out where they were made,” she said.
The two hope the book shows how monumental Hurricane Dorian was to Ocracoke, the place in the United States that got hit the worst and for people to know how big Dorian was.
“We are offering our documentation of this life- changing event in Ocracoke history,” she said.
For so many people Ocracoke is such a fantasy, she said.
“Part of what we want to say in the book is that life is hard here,” she said. “It’s challenging. Everything here is weather dependent. It’s not how most people are living. The elements, nature — totally in charge all the time.”