Irene Stops Tourism at Summer’s End From Hatteras to New England

Hurricane Irene severed the main traffic artery of North Carolina’s Hatteras Island, trapping thousands of people and forcing an abrupt end to tourist season.

The Outer Banks absorbed the brunt of the storm that hit Aug. 27. An aerial assessment shows there are four “rather significant breaches” of the road, North Carolina 12, that isolate the island, Greer Beaty, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Transportation, said in a telephone interview from Raleigh this morning.

The storm forced millions to flee some of the East Coast’s most popular vacation spots, driving people from Carolina beaches and the New Jersey shore. President Barack Obama declared an emergency for Vermont, where covered bridges washed away and scenic valleys were immersed by floods.

On Hatteras, 2,500 people are stranded, according to a report on WRAL-TV in Raleigh.

Beaty said estimates of how long it may take to repair the highway are still being gathered.

“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” he said.

The Outer Banks were having a good season to this point, said Lee Nettles, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau in Manteo, North Carolina. Occupancy of vacation rental homes that compose about 80 percent of the business was up 7 percent through June compared with the same period last year, he said.

“I’m optimistic we’re going to be able to get things back on line quickly,” he said. “We’ll get through it, just like we have before.”

Everything He Had

Irvin Midgett, 54, a fourth-generation fisherman in Rodanthe, has lived his entire life on the Outer Banks and said he’s seen so many storms he’s forgotten their names. Midgett said Irene’s the worst he’s seen.

Irene pushed an 8-foot tide through his 6-acre campground, destroying 60 campsites with trailers left behind by tenants and ruining almost everything Midgett owns.

“I’ve been building this place by hand for 15 years,” Midgett said in an interview yesterday. “I’ve lost my house, my barn, everything. And when the phones start working again and my tenants start calling I’ll have to tell them their stuff is destroyed too.”

Ernie Seneca, a spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, said 135 roads and 19 bridges were closed in the eastern part of the state as of 7 a.m. eastern time. Some schools were closed today and communities such as Columbia were dealing with flooding. Tree damage was extensive up and down the eastern part of the state, with fallen trees blocking roads and breaking power lines.

Expensive Storm

Hurricane Irene may cost insurers as much as $400 million in losses in North Carolina and South Carolina, with about 90 percent of the total from North Carolina, according to catastrophe risk-modeler Eqecat. The firm provided the information today in an e-mailed statement.

Hurricane Floyd is the most expensive storm in state history, with estimated losses of $1.4 billion in 1999 dollars, according to the North Carolina Insurance Department.

Surveying the damage yesterday on the Outer Banks, Avon resident Brad Doerr wasn’t optimistic about the remainder of the tourist season heading into the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“This means the end of the season for everyone,” Doerr, 41, who owns two Dairy Queen franchises, said in an interview.

Taking Their Chances

In New Bern, the original capital of North Carolina and Governor Beverly Perdue’s hometown, residents in stately 19th century homes were busy arranging for the removal of trees and branches that struck houses and clogged streets.

Bard True, a retired construction manager who moved to New Bern in 2003, said yesterday that the storm “just kept beating us.” True piled tree limbs in a wheelbarrow in front of his 1810 home.

True was philosophical about the hurricane and the risks of natural disasters.

“It’s kind of like a craps game,” True said. “You pay your money, you roll the dice and you win or lose.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus at mniquette@bloomberg.net; Ted Richardson in Rodanthe at trichardson0@bloomberg.net; Timothy Jones in Chicago at tjones58@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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