Hatteras Ferry Pilots Say Hurricane Earl May Wash Out Labor Day
From his perch piloting the Cape Point, a ferry boat hauling evacuees from Ocracoke Island, Kevin Morris sees signs that Hurricane Earl may ruin Labor Day weekend on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
“The surf is building now,” Morris said of the white- capped waves crashing on the beach of Hatteras Village. He looked from the ferry’s pilot house, 20 feet above vacationers leaving the island with their cars and trucks to follow a mandatory evacuation order. “It’s going to be a mess coming through here.”
A weekend forecast for sunny skies may be wasted for hotels, restaurants and other businesses on Ocracoke and Hatteras Island to the north, where Dare County officials ordered tourists to leave. The islands may remain closed if Earl, forecast to brush the Outer Banks on Sept. 3, knocks out electricity and floods North Carolina Highway 12, the barrier islands’ only thoroughfare.
“Even if the storm blows only 70 or 90 miles per hour, it may still be a week before you can get back on the island,” said Tina Meekins, 49, one of the six-person crew for the North Carolina Ferry Service on the Cape Point. “It depends upon how quickly the roads are cleared of sand and the overwash subsides.”
Earl churned closer to the East Coast today, threatening an area from North Carolina to Massachusetts with high winds and rain, as two more systems gained strength in the Atlantic. North Carolina’s Hyde County declared a state of emergency. While Earl is unlikely to make landfall in the U.S. as it moves to Canada, in a worst-case scenario its eye may cross the barrier islands, said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center.
Morris, 45, steered the 144-foot (44-meter) Cape Point ferry from inside an air-conditioned pilot house with gauges measuring the depth of Hatteras Inlet and the vessel’s speed. A gold-rimmed barometer showed that pressure had dropped since yesterday, signaling the approach of rain, Morris said.
“A low-pressure system is coming -- that’s what a hurricane is,” he said. “A lot of shop owners are going to be in trouble.”
Edie Coulter, the 51-year-old owner of the Dancing Turtle Coffee Shop in Hatteras Village, said she hasn’t decided whether to open for business tomorrow. Today she served tourists cutting their vacations short.
“They won’t be coming back,” said Coulter’s husband, Steve, a charter boat operator who has had five trips, at $1,500 each, canceled yesterday through Sept. 5.
Bait Sales Fall
As of 3 p.m., bags of ice had generated about half of $1,100 in sales at the Red Drum Tackle Shop in Buxton, said cashier Steve Pinner. Locals bought the ice to keep food chilled in case electricity fails, he said. Bait sales were less than normal as tourists evacuated Hatteras Island, Pinner said.
“Nobody is left behind to fish except for the locals, and they’re not interested in fishing,” he said. “They’re securing their property.”
Steve Coulter moved his 58-foot boat, Sea Creature, to a larger slip in Hatteras Harbor marina in the event it’s jostled by shifting winds and tides. He doubled the number of lines securing the boat and he removed curtains, three antennas and outriggers to prevent damage.
“Hurricanes ruin your business,” Coulter, 52, said. “The tourists are leaving as fast as they can get off the island.”
Among them were honeymooners Kris and Lauren Swedburg from Newport News, Virginia, who today ended their week on Ocracoke Island early.
“It’s a ghost town over there,” said Kris Swedburg, 38, who caught an 11:30 a.m. ferry from Ocracoke Island to Hatteras Village. He and his bride weren’t sure where they’re headed next -- perhaps the mountains of North Carolina -- before returning to work next week.
Tourists departing this afternoon hit a traffic jam on Hatteras Island.
Standing water on Highway 12 near the Oregon Inlet bridge caused a backup of more than 10 miles around 3 p.m., said Mark Cobb, 49, who passed the traffic as he was driving to Buxton to retrieve his travel camper. He plans to take the trailer to his home in Aylett, Virginia, to avoid possible wind and water damage, he said.
“I don’t want to take any chances,” Cobb said.