Local News

Evacuation Of Ocracoke Island Causes Confusion, Frustration

Posted August 5, 2004

— Thousands of tourists left Ocracoke Island Thursday as crews worked to repair damage caused by Hurricane Alex.

State officials estimated that 6,000 to 8,000 tourists had to be ferried out. Hyde County put the number at about 4,000.

The evacuations came late, however, and it was not even clear to many people that they needed to leave.

A lot of people were frustrated and wanted to know why there was so much confusion for such a relatively small storm.

The evacuation hit a slight snag when one of two ferries that was used to transport people off the island had electrical problems and stopped running.

Some tourists were upset because Hurricane Alex caught them off-guard. They believed an evacuation order should have come before the hurricane, not afterward.

"I think they should have evacuated us," tourist Tony Lemmo said. "We should have never been out there.

"A lot of people are upset. The locals are upset because they are losing business. We should have never been out there. Now, they have power back, and everything is coming together, and now they are making people leave. It doesn't make a lot of sense."

Lifelong Ocracoke resident Alton Ballance told WRAL by phone that communication between the island and Hyde County can be lacking.

"Sometimes, there's just not enough planning and attention to Ocracoke's needs on a daily basis, and I think this played into it," Ballance said.

The county manager for Hyde County said that, in hindsight, the evacuation order should have been given earlier.

Part of the communication difficulties, according to Ballance, was that there was no local full-time point person to handle all the emergency management issues during and after the storm.

The position is funded, but unfilled.

"That's what needs to be cleared up," Ballance said. "Who do you call to get accurate information?"

Both state and county officials struggled to define the best response plan.

Gov. Mike Easley cited the delicate balancing act between hurricane recovery and salvaging tourism.

"You do have to evacuate residents from time to time," Easley said. "You don't like to do it, but when you do, I told them: ' Do whatever you have to do to make the people feel as good as they can, because this is the only vacation some of them get.'"

Alex left many people on the island with flooded-out cars, leaving their owners high and dry. Emergency management officials in Hyde County estimated there were between 175 to 400 abandoned cars on Ocracoke Island.

In one instance, investigators said, the flooding shorted out the electrical system of a car and caused it to catch fire. It was parked so close to a home that the entire home burned down.

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