Coast fears for Labor Day

Staff WriterAugust 30, 2011 

— Even for parts of the Outer Banks that still have road access to the outside world, it's going to be difficult to put everything right in time for the Labor Day weekend.

Some hotels, restaurants and stores survived Hurricane Irene largely unscathed, while others must replace damaged supplies or make repairs. The same is true for rental homes.

All three state aquariums - Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island - reopened Monday, as did Jennette's Pier in Nags Head. Several state parks, though, remained closed, including Carolina Beach, Hammocks Beach, Dismal Swamp and Jockey's Ridge.

Now business and property owners hope the thousands of visitors who had planned to come for the weekend actually arrive, putting aside concerns about the storm's lingering effects on businesses and services.

They hope enough people follow the lead of the Camper family of Roanoke, Va., who were in Nags Head on Monday, hoping to get to the home they rented this week in Corolla. Three generations of Campers booked their rental in January.

"We work hard all year for this one week," said Larry Camper, who owns an auto repair shop in Roanoke. "We weren't going to sit home and wait for a personal invitation."

Gov. Bev Perdue issued something like that Sunday might, at least for the state's southern beaches, which the governor announced to the world were open for business. Irene's northeasterly slant largely spared the beaches from Carteret County south to the South Carolina line.

'It is business by business'

In the north, though, the picture is a little spottier.

Some businesses never closed during the weekend. Some stayed shuttered for lack of help, their employees seeking safety inland.

At Sam and Omie's, a local restaurant in Nags Head, an employee washed sand from the deck Monday morning, clearing the full extent of storm damage at the restaurant. By 9 a.m., a few regulars sat at the bar and ate breakfast.

One of them was Jimmy Graham whose family owns nearby Dunes Burgers. "It is business by business," Graham said. "We are back in business. Some weren't so lucky."

Graham nodded toward Sugar Creek Sound Front Restaurant. Irene flooded the restaurant, drawing five feet of water under the building where all the food was stored. The surge jostled walk-in freezers and soaked everything including the two Volkswagen bugs that sit out front as advertisement.

On Monday morning, crews at Sugar Creek scooped shovels full of seaweed mixed with carrots and potatoes into wheelbarrows bound for the trash. They lost everything, including all of their refrigeration equipment.

"We have to start fresh," manager Buzz Joseph said.

Owner Erwin Bateman estimates he lost as much as $75,000 in equipment and food. Most cannot be recouped through insurance because the equipment will be reimbursed less depreciation. And every day the restaurant stays closed, Bateman said he is missing $20,000 in sales.

Bateman took it in stride and hoped his customers would, too. He said he didn't want pity, just patience.

"We will be back, and we hope the tourists will be too," he said.

Chris and Jolene Sis are already here, unwilling to let their weekly rental in Corolla go unused. They flew from Minnesota to Virginia on Friday, despite ominous reports about Irene, and on Sunday decided to try to come onto the Outer Banks.

They didn't mind the distraction or the mess.

"Here it's no big deal if you are dirty," said Chris Sis. "It's the beach. You are supposed to be dirty. And love it."

mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8927

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