Ocracoke is still a closed island. It seems odd to think of a town and an island that is so much a part of the Outer Banks as being closed, but even now, two months after Hurricane Dorian has passed, access to the village is by permission of Hyde County Emergency Management only.
A trip to the village makes it clear why that is the case. The hotels and motels that would typically accommodate visitors, many of the homes that would be rented—they’re damaged and cannot be reopened until they’re repaired.
Because it is an island and everything has to be delivered or removed by ferries, a difficult recovery is exasperated.
The ferry terminal on the north end of the island and the road to it were severely damaged in the storm. That is the connection with Hatteras and historically the quickest ferry trip and the way most people and supplies get on and off the island.
The new route docks in Silver Lake in the heart of Ocracoke Village. What had been an hour and five minute trip from Hatteras to Ocracoke has become a two and a half hour voyage. That there is a dock for the Hatteras Ferry does help, but is a mixed blessing—the ramp that has to be used cannot handle the largest trucks. Because that is the case, all major supplies, as well as the removal of debris, have to use either the Cedar Island or Southport ferries.
That has caused two problems.
Getting the supplies needed to rebuild has slowed. More significantly, however, there is a severe shortage of workers to do the repairs.
There is no housing and no place to put the workers. In normal conditions, much of the workforce would commute to Ocracoke taking the Hatteras ferry. With a round trip travel time of four and a half to five hours, workers are understandably reluctant to commit to that much time.
Housing does seem to be the number one concern, although identifying one particular crisis over another on the island is difficult because there seems to be so many and they seem to intersect.
Knowing that their seasonal rental homes could not be rented for some time, a number of property owners have agreed to allow residents whose homes are uninhabitable to stay in their homes temporarily.
The official count puts that at 90 people.
That figure falls far short of the number of people displaced by Dorian. That count only includes people who are staying in rental properties. It does not include families who are staying with friends or relatives. That is where the majority of the displaced families have gone.
A more likely, although unofficial count taken by concerned residents, puts that figure at close to 350. If that is the case, and looking at the damage to structures in the village, it seems reasonable, around 35% of the population cannot live in their own homes until they are repaired.
The storm surge was 9’. No one had ever seen anything even close to that before. And this surge was different than what had been experienced in the past.
Along the Outer Banks sounds storm surge typically sees water levels gradually but rapidly rise. That was not the case with Dorian according to a number of Ocracoke residents.
It was a wall of water that poured through the narrow channel leading to Pamlico Sound…a wall of water pushed by the winds of Dorian that was 8’ or 9’ high. Perhaps most extraordinary is that there was no loss of life, and although the damage is extensive, almost every home and business is repairable.
It is odd walking around the business district of the village. Like the rest of the Outer Banks, fall has become an important second season for Ocracoke. An autumn day is usually filled with day-trippers, enjoying an outdoor lunch by Silver Lake. Cars creep along, their speed slowed by hundreds of pedestrians and bikes.
There is none of that now. Only empty hotels, waiting for repair crews. Closed businesses where an owner and maybe a local worker are trying to repair the damage as best they can.