KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. — State and local authorities are assessing damage from Hurricane Sandy along the North Carolina coast as they try to restore vital links to the barrier islands and return daily life to some sense of normalcy.
Most counties reported no major damage or storm-related injuries, although some roads were flooded, including the U.S. Highway 158 Bypass in Kill Devil Hills and N.C. Highway 12 – a major thoroughfare that runs along the coastline.
Authorities brought in pumps Tuesday to siphon 2 to 3 feet of standing water off a half-mile stretch of the five-lane U.S. 158, and they were able to reopen the highway on Wednesday morning. Nearby business owners were then able to check out damage from Sandy and begin to make repairs.
"We got lucky," said Steve Kiousis, owner of the Stack 'Em High pancake house, as he and his workers carted everything they could move out of the restaurant so they could clean and dry it all out.
"When we were looking at it on Monday, we were, 'Oh my God, I hope it's not as bad as the Halloween (1991) storm,'" Kiousis said.
Next door, Chapel Hill native Alyssa Hannon said she was devastated by the damage to the Outer Banks Children's Museum, which she and her family opened a couple of years ago. Sandy pushed about a foot of water into the building, dousing practically all of the exhibits.
"It was submerged," Hannon said of a boat in the museum. "You can see the water line. ... The boat was completely in the water, and we're not sure if we can salvage it."
She expressed confidence that the community would support the museum as it tries to recover from the storm, but she said the future remains cloudy.
"We were planning to expand and get bigger, but it's frustrating because we're not sure what the next step is," she said.
The state Department of Transportation said Sandy left deep sand and debris in areas on N.C. 12 on Pea Island from south of the Bonner Bridge to Rodanthe. Crews also discovered pavement damage on the road on the south side of the temporary bridge over the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge breach.
At Rodanthe, crews found damage to the sandbags placed along N.C. 12 after Hurricane Irene hit the area last year.
"We're making very good progress," Jon Nance, deputy highway administrator, said of DOT's efforts to clear 3 to 4 feet of sand from N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island.
Nance estimated that repairs to the highway will cost $8 million and take three to four weeks to complete.
"We've been very lucky," he said. "We still have a connected roadway."
Hurricane Irene last year punched three holes in N.C. 12 that required extensive repairs, including the installation of the temporary Pea Island bridge.
DOT crews conducted an on-site inspection of the Bonner Bridge, which spans Oregon Inlet and connects Hatteras Island to the mainland on Tuesday. Inspectors planned to examine the water depth around the bridge's support columns on Wednesday and determine how the sand under the bridge has shifted since the storm passed offshore.
Ferry service is currently the only way to move people in and out of the area.
State officials activated an emergency ferry route Tuesday between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe to assist residents trying to return to Hatteras Island and deliver supplies and emergency equipment. The DOT said a schedule will also be in place to assist Dare County with re-entry Wednesday, but visitors will not be allowed to get onto the island.
Ferry routes on Pamlico Sound, including those to Ocracoke Island, returned to their normal schedules Wednesday, and the DOT also resumed limited operations of the ferry linking Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
Currituck County Emergency Management spokesman Randall Edwards said most of the roads in his county were passable. In Carteret County, Emergency Management spokeswoman Joann Smith said there was standing water on some roads, and Hyde County also reported no homes were flooded.
In other counties, emergency management officials are still assessing the damage.
Attorney General Roy Cooper warned people to be wary of potential scams in Sandy's wake, especially from people collecting money for relief efforts.
“The lowest of the low use catastrophes like this to line their own pockets,” Cooper said in a statement. “Don’t let phony charities divert your donations from those who really need our help.”