Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Commentary: Hurricane brings sorrow, blessings

On Sunday, Aug. 28, regional and national media vehicles lined the road in front of the old Windmill Point property to get photos or do location filming of a bunch of jet skis washed into the road by Hurricane Irene. Not leaving the oceanfront area or the beaten path, it was the only "sexy" shot they could find. There were no local news reporters there because that's not where the stories are. The storm didn't wash away oceanfront mini-mansions nor take away beaches. Instead it took out its wrath on the soundside of the Outer Banks, Roanoke Island and the mainland. It attacked the soul of the Outer Banks community -- the places where its workforce lives. Damage to NC 12 received attention as it once again meant that Hatteras Island was isolated and without services. The full extent of damage to the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo area still isn't known since most residents have not been able to return to the island, but is considered substantial by all available reports. US Fish and Wildlife Service immediately approved any repairs needed to be made to the road in the existing right-of-way and simultaneously drafted a permit to allow additional work outside the right-of-way should North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) request such leeway and if doing so didn't break any federal laws.

Initially, in addition to lack of a highway, residents couldn't return to the island because of inadequate utility infrastructure to support more people, but just a day after the emergency ferries began to haul residents from Stumpy Point to Rodanthe and Hatteras village, an accident at the mainland ferry dock caused structural damage and transportation was suspended until repairs could be made. NCDOT engineers and employees worked overnight and ferry service resumed on Tuesday, Sept. 6. The stories north of Oregon Inlet is in the sound front communities from Duck south and the mainland. Communities in Colington, Wanchese, Roanoke Island, Kitty Hawk and other locations had historical flooding. While trying to clean up, assess property damage and wait for utilities to be restored, looters and joy-riders found their way into some of the hard-hit areas prompting closures of some roads to all, but residents and emergency personnel. Stumpy Point on the mainland is surrounded by the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Like each community in Dare County, it has its own personality and character. One of the last traditional fishing villages in the state, it also is home to many moved-in retirees. Occupations run a wide gamut from engineers, teachers, government workers, and of course, jobs, related to the commercial fishing industry. According to Dare County's preliminary damage assessments, the village thus far has the highest percentage of damaged homes. Of the approximately 110 occupied homes, 30 are listed on the damage report as destroyed, 25 are deemed uninhabitable and another 25 have major damage. Unfortunately, there are many still staying in these structures. But the stress and damage found in the village are being felt in all the other affected communities, too. Operation Blessing of Virginia Beach is now at the community center and providing meals and various other assistance. The nonprofit operates totally on donations and information can be found at Piles of furniture, carpeting and other flood-soaked items line the Bayview Drive, which wraps around the bay. The size of the debris mountains grow each day. Like most communities, Stumpy Point has its own interpretation of language. Ask a villager how they are doing and they will reply "I'm okay; we are going to be okay." Translated that means "I'm alive, my family is alive and somehow we will get past this." Many retirees in the village live on fixed incomes, and with rising costs of food, medicine and gas, insurance simply isn't in their budget so they aren't waiting for an adjuster. But with every catastrophic disaster there are blessings to be found. Resident Sheila Golden has become the message taker and informal innkeeper in her home next to the fire house. Golden said that after WRAL reported that it had become the "Golden Hilton," she received a call from Dennis Hinton in Zebulon. He wanted to help those staying in her home so Hinton loaded up a truck with paper towels, toilet paper and other supplies and drove to her home to drop them off. There are blessings. On Sunday, a man was on his hands and knees scraping gunk off the floor in the entryway to Shiloh Methodist Church. The humidity had returned and there is a faint aroma of bad water and mold, but the man kept scraping. Instead of out and about filming for "My Heart Will Always be in Carolina," Ken Mann was quietly helping to clean up and repair the flooded church. There are blessings. Robin Mann is chairman of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce and wife of Paul Mann of Paul Mann Custom Boats. She called to ask what to do with Food Lion gift certificates she and Paul purchased for those who had lost all their food. A pick up was arranged and on Monday folks from Operation Blessing handed them out to families who needed them. There are blessings. Fire chief and assistant fire chief, father and son, RD and Curtis Price respectively, move through the village trying to identify needs and find the resources to solve problems. RD's home was flooded and Curtis' is destroyed. There are blessings. There are no easy answers on how to put back together so many lives. Perhaps the best thing to do is adopt the village's language translation. For disclosure, I live in Stumpy Point and have only comparatively minor damage. And "I'm okay" because there are blessings.

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