Hurricane Dorian made landfall at Cape Hatteras on North Carolina’s Outer Banks Friday morning, bringing with it enough wind and rain to leave hundreds of people trapped on nearby Ocracoke Island.
The culprit, in part, at least, is a familiar one: N.C. Highway 12, the frequently flooded road that connects the state’s barrier islands.
Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press conference Friday morning the Hwy. 12 bridge on Ocracoke Island was out, and that the estimated 800 people stranded had been advised to get to the highest point in their home in case of storm surge and flash flooding.
Friday afternoon, the N.C. Department of Transportation road crews worked to clear several miles of Hwy. 12 on Cedar Island, south of Ocracoke.
Dead marsh grass had been pushed onto the road, laying on the pavement in clumps nearly six feet long, blocking traffic in and out of Cedar Island. A swiftwater rescue team from the Cary Fire Department had to wait while crews moved the debris before they could travel into the area and make sure everyone was OK, after heavy flooding on Cedar Island.
North of Ocracoke, an area of Hwy. 12 between Nags Head and Hatteras was covered with sand by Friday morning, and the sides of the road had already flooded before the worst of the storm even arrived.
Flooding wasn’t as bad on Hatteras Island, where Dorian made landfall.
Ernie Foster, a 74-year-old Hatteras Village resident, said he would have evacuated if experts thought Dorian would be stronger by the time it hit the Outer Banks.
“We were tied down pretty good,” he said. “We had some (high) tide, and it floated off our propane tanks and that kind of thing, but the damage is not that bad.”
Foster said that while it took days for the storm to arrive, once it did, water started moving around Hatteras Island fast.
He said as the hurricane came in Friday morning, it blew the water from the Pamlico Sound toward the mainland, emptying it from the backside of the island to about 3 feet below normal. Within an hour, as the storm moved and winds shifted, the water came rushing back, he said, to 7 or 8 feet above normal.
By midday the water began to recede.
Foster said he was more worried about the situation on Ocracoke Island, about 25 miles southwest of Hatteras. A friend who had stayed on Ocracoke told Foster, “Tides with this storm were as high as anyone remembers.”
Power outages, road closures
Dorian, a Category 1 storm at landfall, also brought high winds, road closures and widespread power outages to the state, though the impact overall appears to be less severe than originally feared.
Wilmington, which saw extensive damage from wind and flooding from Hurricane Florence last year, was more fortunate this time. Throughout the city’s downtown area at daybreak Friday, the damage was mostly debris from twigs and leaves.
Morehead City, north of Wilmington, had downed trees and power outages, but missed the storm surge flooding that had been predicted.
Still, downed trees and power lines caused more than 220,000 people across the state to lose electricity by midday Friday, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
At the same time, about 75 roads and highways were closed, mostly due to downed trees.
‘We weren’t ready for a tornado’
Residents of the Brunswick County town of Carolina Shores returned to their homes Friday afternoon after fleeing a tornado that touched down there Thursday morning.
The town’s building inspector said about 40 homes had been damaged, six of them seriously enough to warrant “no trespassing” notices.
Jasmine Hale was among those returning for the first time since Thursday’s tornado. When the storm struck, she had been asleep in the home she shares with her aunt, boyfriend and eight-month-old daughter, Rose.
Hale walked through the house, stepping over a shattered picture frame, and poked her head through the sliding door at the back of the house.
“Look at our porch, look at our porch,” Hale said. “I can’t bring Rose out here. This is frightening.”
Across the street, brothers Tommy Hall III and Benjamin Hall set about nailing tarps over windows that had been shattered on the backside of their house.
“We were ready for the hurricane,” Tommy Hall said. “But we weren’t ready for a tornado.”
Staff writer Andrew Carter contributed to this report.