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NC’s Outer Banks pick up the pieces after Dorian, with relief that things weren’t worse

More than 24 hours after Hurricane Dorian arrived, Ocracoke — one of North Carolina’s coziest, most serene coastal destinations — remained partially underwater and reliant on the assistance of emergency response crews.

Government officials and volunteers on Saturday used a ferryboat to transport food, drinking water and fuel to residents of Ocracoke, an island just south of Cape Hatteras along the Outer Banks. Dorian brought 90 mph winds and a storm surge of 7 feet when it landed Friday morning, warping the island’s main highway and leaving many residents stranded.

Flood waters cracked and crinkled N.C. 12, which links Ocracoke and most of the Outer Banks barrier islands. The state Department of Transportation posted photos on Facebook showing the pavement Friday night.

“There are two 500-foot sections of road (on Okracoke) in this condition,” NCDOT said. “Obviously, these will take some serious repair work.”

About 90 miles north in Manteo, Gov. Roy Cooper stood in front of reporters Saturday afternoon to explain North Carolina’s post-hurricane status. The wind whipped across Cooper’s microphone as he listed the day’s small victories, and the island’s remaining challenges.

The most encouraging news in the aftermath of Dorian: there have been no reported deaths attributable to the storm in the places hardest hit.

“Even though many of them have lived there a long time, and their families have lived there, there was somewhat a state of shock from the significant storm surge that they saw coming in,” Cooper said. “The man whose house I visited that had been built I think in 1870, the water had never been like that before, he was telling me.”

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Two 500-foot sections of NC 12 on the Outer Banks are in this condition. ÒObviously, these will take some serious repair work,Ó say state officials. NC DOT

Door-to-door efforts

In Ocracoke Island, Cooper said search and rescue teams are “going door to door” to make sure that residents there survived. The North Carolina National Guard has made dozens of helicopter flights to the island to deliver supplies and support, said General Jim Ernst, who traveled with Cooper on Saturday.

Ernst said 525 National Guard soldiers have been mobilized to assist in the recovery efforts.

“Volunteers are beginning to serve hot meals,” Cooper said in the afternoon press conference. “On Ocracoke Island right now, they’ve got the water system back up running.”

But, he added, “they still are working to get power restored, and they don’t expect that to happen for several days.”

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Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department chief Albert O’Neal, in blue shirt, boats down Sunset Drive on his way to seek out islanders stranded in their flooded homes in the aftermath of Hurricane. Dorian Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 on Ocracoke Island, N.C. Connie Leinbach Ocracoke Observer/AP

Overall, Cooper said that his conversations with officials throughout the eastern part of the state have shared a common theme — one of relief and gratitude that things weren’t worse. In the places hardest hit, he noted that the recovery is already underway, and progressing.

Still, Cooper said he’ll likely request a federal disaster declaration.

“I think probably so,” he said when asked if North Carolina would make that request. “But we’re trying to get all the information in regarding damages. There’s some concentrated areas where there’s significant damages.”

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Flood waters from Hurricane Dorian fill neighborhoods in Ocracoke Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

Road clearing begins

Repairs to N.C. 12 were to begin Saturday, according to transportation officials. But state officials did not say when the highway would reopen on the island, telling The Weather Channel it was “a work in progress.”

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DOT crews clear sand from N.C. 12 on the Outer Banks Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

In addition to Ocracoke Island (which relies on ferries to reach nearby islands), access to Hatteras Island “remains closed until further notice,” Dare County officials said Saturday. “This includes all areas south of Oregon Inlet including the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras Village,” county officials said in a press release.

Dare County officials reported Saturday that standing water, tree limbs, debris and dangling power lines remain hazards on the northern sections of the Outer Banks and other coastal areas within the county.

Several dunes were reportedly breached along N.C. 12 during the storm, allowing water and sand to cover areas of the highway between the Basnight Bridge and Hatteras Island, NCDOT said on Facebook. In a photo uploaded to department’s Facebook page, bulldozers can be seen shoveling sand off the highway.

Although Hurricane Dorian wreaked less havoc on Hatteras, officials said travel on N.C. 12 on the island “is hazardous.”

Many residents of the state’s coastlines remained without power late Saturday afternoon, including 11,847 in Dare County, 7,000 in Currituck County and 3,300 in Beaufort County.

Cooper called for a mandatory evacuation of the barrier islands before the storm, but some people stayed behind. An estimated 800 people were on Ocracoke when flooding began, state officials said.

First responders evacuated 32 people from the Outer Banks by ground as of Saturday morning, according to a statement released by Cooper’s office.

‘The hurricane governor’

Not long after Cooper stepped off of a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter at the Dare County Regional Airport in Manteo on Saturday, he a saw a familiar face in a crowd of locals and reporters who’d come to see him. They shook hands and hugged and shared a few remarks.

“I think I’m going to be the hurricane governor,” Cooper told the man, shaking his head. “This is a little rough.”

For the second consecutive September, Cooper had spent time in a helicopter, riding over Eastern North Carolina for a closer look at hurricane damage. Last year it was Hurricane Florence, from which people in the southeastern part of the state are still recovering.

This time, Cooper rode over the Outer Banks, making stops in Ocracoke and Emerald Isle, at an RV park that a tornado decimated.

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The Ocracoke Village Fire Department is used as a command center Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 on Ocracoke Island, N.C., in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Connie Leinbach Ocracoke Observer/AP

Cooper carried with him stories from both places — harrowing accounts from locals who suffered extensive property damage, or who lost their homes. Some people, Cooper said, told him that they’d feared for their lives during the most punishing parts of Dorian’s onslaught.

“I talked to a man named Bill,” Cooper said of his visit to the RV park, “who was drinking a cup of coffee when the tornado hit. And he showed me where he hid on the floor and there were boards and beams all around. And I don’t know how he survived, but he got by with a few scratches.”

That was the prevailing theme of Cooper’s tour – relief.

In addition to the story about the Emerald Island man, Cooper relayed a similar tale from a man who’d lived in a house on Ocracoke Island for 35 years.

Floodwaters from Dorian destroyed it, Cooper said, and the man told him that he’d lost all he had.

“But then he said, ‘I’m so thankful I’m alive,’” Cooper said.

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