Kitty Hawk, N.C. — While North Carolina was spared widespread devastation from Hurricane Sandy, the storm responsible for extensive damage in the Northeast did leave its mark on the Outer Banks.
The storm dumped huge amounts of rain and left Kitty Hawk inundated with sand and ocean water. Despite the damage, the area is ready to welcome visitors for Thanksgiving weekend, a popular weekend despite cooler temperatures and less-than-ideal beach-going weather.
Lori Jones and her husband Jesse will be in the area this week despite concerns over the status of their rental house and the road that leads to it.
"This year we're trying something new and coming down to the beach (to) see how we all like it," Jones said of her family. "We emailed the rental company just to make sure the house was OK."
The house was OK, and the road covered by 4 feet of sand a couple of weeks ago is passable.
Crews are continuing to push sand off the roadways, often using it to rebuild sand dunes Sandy destroyed. Storm surge broke through dunes that weekend, allowing ocean water into parts of Kitty Hawk and all the way to the N.C. Highway 158 bypass.
"The state comes through and pushes all the sand in everyone's driveways, and we just to try to get it dispersed throughout the year," Chess Tyson, with Pro-Grade Inc., said.
Tyson and his crews have been busy with shovels since the days after Sandy moved away from the North Carolina coastline.
Wells Rawls, an employee of 158 Surf and Skate Shop, said water hasn't kept his business from being ready for Thanksgiving week. The day Sandy hit, workers put merchandise up on shelves. Once the storm passed and the rebuilding began, they pulled up carpet and replaced it.
"We were fortunate, some other folks in here are still trying to rebuild," he said.
In the same shopping center, a Papa John's location hopes to open in another week. A printing service nearby has relocated while crews repair flood damage.
One business not so lucky was Hurricane Mo's, a popular local hangout that has 20 inches of water inside after Sandy left. It likely won't be open until after Christmas.
Roadways still blocked for some near Cape Hatteras
While northern portions of the Outer Banks are slowly picking up the pieces, the southern beaches are still struggling because of the ongoing closure of N.C. Highway 12, the only highway in and out of the area.
Since last week, the road has been open only to vehicles with four-wheel drive, and it's been closed several hours every day during high tide. Waiting for the ferry can be just as frustrating. Residents are expecting that alone to have a big impact on Thanksgiving tourism.
"It would add close to 3 to 5 hours travel time, so there were a lot of people discouraged about that," Hatteras Realty President Amy Helle said.
Due to the delays, Helle said as many as 15 percent of the families scheduled to visit this week changed their plans. Since there are ways to get to Hatteras Island, refunds aren't available.
"We tried to work out some kind of arrangement where they could shift to a later week," she said. "Some chose a later week this year, some chose spring."
The Perkins family came from far and wide to spend time together over the holiday week, with some coming from Massachusetts and others coming from Florida.
"I wanted to get away and my sister said, 'Why not Thanksgiving and we all meet in the middle,'" Emily Perkins said. "That's the main point, to have everyone at one place at one time."
It took some effort – Emily Perkins had to rent a four-wheel drive SUV – but once the Perkins' arrived, everything was open on Hatteras Island.
While Thanksgiving makes up a large percentage of Outer Banks visitors in November, 70 percent of the area's visitors come during the summer months.