Kill Devil Hills, N.C. — As the mega-storm once known as Hurricane Sandy continued to pound mid-Atlantic and Northeast states Tuesday with heavy rain, snow and high winds, residents along North Carolina's coast tried to dry out and dig out in Sandy's wake.
The surging waves that Sandy brought ashore left a half-mile stretch of the five-lane U.S. Highway 158 Bypass through the heart of northern Dare County under 3 feet of water. It's only the third time in the last two decades that the highway has flooded.
Police were diverting cars through a maze of local neighborhoods where water has receded, and Kill Devil Hills Police Chief David Ward said authorities hope to bring pumps in from Richmond, Va., on Tuesday afternoon to begin clearing water from the highway.
Ward said it would likely take the rest of this week to get U.S. 158 reopened, but it would then take another week or two to pump out the water between the highway and N.C. Highway 12, which also is under 2 to 3 feet of water and mounds of sand.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation said N.C. 12 is littered with pieces of nearby homes, decks and driveways that were damaged by Sandy, and crews are trying to clear the debris.
DOT engineers also are trying to assess the damage to N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island in southern Dare County, which authorities said was covered with sand and water and had sections of pavement missing. Crews planned to check the top side of Bonner Bridge, which connects the mainland and Hatteras Island, for any damage on Tuesday afternoon, but an inspection of its supports will have to wait for calmer seas, authorities said.
Because Bonner Bridge remains closed to traffic, the state began ferry service between Stumpy Point and Rodanthe to deliver supplies and emergency equipment to Hatteras Island, evacuate any residents wishing to leave and allow homeowners back on the island to check their properties.
A group of about 20 fishermen who were stranded on Portsmouth Island, south of Ocracoke Island, as Sandy approached on Saturday were finally able to board two private ferries Tuesday morning and return to the mainland.
The DOT resumed normal schedules for the Currituck-Knotts Island and Bayview-Aurora ferries on Tuesday, making them the third and fourth routes to return to service in Sandy's wake. Ferries left Ocracoke for Cedar Island and Swan Quarter Tuesday morning, and officials said normal ferry service to Ocracroke would resume Wednesday.
Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry service remains suspended until further notice.
Ocracoke sustained minimal damage from Sandy, although water was standing on roads there as well, officials said.
Winds wrapping around Sandy were blowing in from the west along the North Carolina coast at 15 to 17 mph Tuesday afternoon, with gusts up to 30 mph. Still, Dare County residents expressed relief that there was little sound-side flooding from the storm.
"It just came up to the bulkhead and went down, came up and went down," said Stephanie Beasley, who lives in the Colington Harbor section on the sound side of Kill Devil Hills. "We're blessed."
Tommy Beasley, a distant relative of Stephanie Beasley who owns Billy's Seafood Market in Colington Harbor, said the scenario is the opposite of Hurricane Irene, which caused severe sound-side surge and flooding. The seafood market had water 42 inches high last year after Irene.
"We were totally damaged last year, and this year, no water," Tommy Beasley said. "The good Lord smiled upon us."
Tommy Beasley said, even in Irene, they were lucky.
"No loss of life. No structural damage. We're here," he said.
National Guard troops have been stationed at an armory in Washington since Saturday, ready to be deployed and distribute emergency supplies from a warehouse in Tarboro. Officials said they were going to draw down forces in eastern North Carolina now that Sandy has passed and possibly redeploy troops to the mountains in the western parts of the state, where the storm is dumping snow.
Ward said he doesn't expect normalcy in the region for months.
"It will make tourists not come down for a while," he said, noting many rental houses were flooded and septic systems compromised. "It's going to have a large effect on the economy here for the rest of the season."