Tourists who haven't evacuated Ocracoke, Hatteras islands could face fines, officials say

By: Jason Stoogenke

Updated:

BUXTON, N.C. - Officials said all three transmission cables that provide electricity to Ocracoke and Hatteras islands were damaged.

A mandatory evacuation for both areas are still in effect for visitors, and violators could face a penalty.

More than 50,000 tourists have been forced off the islands.

“It has been very hot and our food's spoiled, very uncomfortable,” a tourist said.

Homes and businesses are running on backup generators.

Officials said it could take weeks to repair the damage.

“This is summer time, right in the peak of summer time, and it definitely affects,” a business owner said.

Engineers have been working non-stop to restore power for Hatteras and Ocracoke islands since Thursday when a construction company accidentally cut an electrical line.

As of Saturday morning, one generator has been restored, but there are still about 9,000 homes without power.

The Department of Transportation reports that more than 3,700 people have been evacuated, including vacationers, who, unlike homeowners, aren't allowed back.

Emergency management officials issued a mandatory evacuation order Friday for Hatteras Island visitors because of a widespread power outage that has already prompted thousands of tourists to leave Hatteras and neighboring Ocracroke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The Dare County Department of Emergency Management said in a statement Friday that the evacuation order is mandatory for all visiting Hatteras Island effective at 6 a.m. Saturday. It includes the island villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras.

Officials say they took that step as a safety precaution and because of growing uncertainty as to when repairs to a major transmission line would be complete. The statement says properly credentialed residents and non-resident property owners, along with essential personal and some others, would be allowed to remain. The evacuation order doesn't include any areas north of Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks.

The county's emergency management department says it's continuing to work with utility officials to restore power to levels that would allow visitors to eventually return.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency for Ocracoke and Hatteras islands Thursday night.

The outage comes during peak tourist season, which runs from mid-June through Labor Day.

People began leaving Ocracoke Island late Thursday. Northeast of Ocracoke in the town of Rodanthe, Coleen Gauker says people keep coming into Island Convenience store asking for something cold. And she says the answer is no. Gauker told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk there are no cold options.

The food that is available is in the deli-cafe located in the back of the store, where Aaron Howe and Dolly Gray worked with flashlights to make sausage biscuits on a gas stove.

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"It's the only location in town where you can get a bite," Howe told the newspaper. "It might take a while but we'll get it done."

But it's cash only with the registers down.

Gas stations on Ocracoke were selling the last of their supply Thursday night, and ice cream was selling for half price at the Slushy Stand as people tried to keep cool.

"Believe me, it was a little toasty last night," Andrea Wayda of New Jersey told the newspaper Friday morning before she and Patrick Jobe left on a ferry. The two stayed in a cabana with a pool during their visit.

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Erica Plouffe Lazure was visiting Ocracoke from Exeter, New Hampshire, with a friend, but had to cut her trip short and head north to Elizabeth City. She said two restaurants on Ocracoke were using generators to stay open, but the motel she booked for her stay closed after its generator exploded minutes after it was started.

"There's a lot of hot, sweaty people here," Lazure said, adding that she tried to book a motel farther up the North Carolina coast, only to find they were either sold out or asking as much as $500 a night.

"This is a beautiful island and I waited two years to come back here because it's one of my favorite places in the world," she said. "I'm a little bummed that the power has gotten in the way, but, till next time."

Once off the island, tourists may face a slow, crowded ride as they maneuver N.C. Highway 12. The two-lane road is the only north-south roadway along the Outer Banks.

The power went out about 4:30 a.m. Thursday. Officials said about 9,000 customers are without power on the two islands - about 7,700 on Hatteras and another 1,300 on Ocracoke.

The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative said in a news release Thursday that PCL Construction told the utility it had driven a steel casing into an electric transmission cable while working on the new Bonner Bridge on the state's coast, inadvertently cutting off power to Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation's Ferry Division said priority boarding is suspended for all vehicles leaving Ocracoke. Tolls will be waived for ferry trips between Ocracoke and Cedar Island or Swan Quarter.

The electric cooperative said power is currently available for Buxton, Frisco and part of Hatteras Village through a diesel generating plant. The cooperative said it also would initiate rolling blackouts, but only if people turn off air conditioning units and minimize other electrical usage. Ten portable generators were being brought in.

Rob Temple, a boat captain on Ocracoke Island, had a large group booked for Thursday night, but only a handful of people showed up after the power outage. Still, he seemed to take it in stride Friday as he waited in a line of cars for a ferry off the island to take his daughter to a movie in nearby Nags Head. Their house has been without power since early Thursday morning.

"We get hurricanes sometimes in the middle of the season and you have to be prepared for this," he said.

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