Rodanthe, N.C. — State transportation engineers were studying N.C. Highway 12 on Monday to determine whether Hurricane Irene's storm surge breached the vital link along the Outer Banks in a third area, Gov. Beverly Perdue said.
Damage to N.C. 12 cut off land access to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, stranding at least 2,500 people and bringing a sudden end to the summer tourist season upon which the region's economy depends heavily.
Perdue vowed to make the road passable as soon as possible.
"There are going to be those from across the country saying, 'Why are (you) investing in that road again?'" she said. "Until we can find a better way to move on and off (the islands), they are North Carolina citizens, they pay taxes and they have got to have a highway, road or bridge to travel on the same as the rest of us."
Perdue is seeking federal disaster recovery money for Dare and six other North Carolina counties hit by Irene: Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Hyde, Pamlico and Tyrrell.
The two confirmed breaches – just north of Rodanthe and in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge – are bigger than those caused by previous hurricanes, she said, and the continued pounding of the surf is making them larger.
Hurricane Isabel tore a breach through Hatteras Island, near Frisco, in 2003. It took the state two months to fill the new inlet and repair the highway then.
Authorities weren't allowing anyone onto the islands or the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Monday, and there was no word on when residents and visitors might be allowed to return.
A checkpoint has been set up between Nags Head and Oregon Inlet to stop everyone but emergency personnel from traveling to Hatteras Island.
A WRAL News crew traveled to the island by boat Monday and found the North Beach Campground in Rodanthe in ruins. Mobile homes and recreational vehicles were tossed into the water and against one another, and the bath house was toppled from its foundation.
"We're pretty much done as far as the campground. Hopefully, we'll be able to salvage ... some of our year-round sites," said Joey O'Neal, whose family has owned the property for 50 years.
The campground damage came from sound-side flooding a quarter-mile away, O'Neal said.
"(Water) was flowing through here just like a river flows, if not harder than that," Justin O'Neal said. "There was so much tide built up everywhere."
Across the street, the O'Neal family home also was knocked off its foundation by the surging water.
"I really don't honestly think the reality has begun to sink in," Stephanie O'Neal said. "It's so overwhelming (to determine) where to start or what to do."
Up the road, the Serendipity House, made famous in the movie "Nights in Rodanthe," escaped Irene's wrath unharmed.
"We had some wind-driven rain damage on the fourth floor, you know, naturally, but other than that, we fared fine," said owner Debbie Huss. "We had a generator and we got to watch TV during it. Our satellite did not go out."
Ferries will be the islands' only link to the mainland until repairs to N.C. 12 are complete. Emergency ferry service started Monday between Stumpy Point on the mainland to Rodanthe to bring in power crews, National Guard members, fuel and generators and provide some stranded residents with a way off the island.
N.C.12 was open between Rodanthe and Hatteras Village, officials said, but limited cell phone service hampered recovery efforts.
Crews with Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative were working to restore power to the island, but there was no word when power would be back on. Two emergency generators were expected to arrive on the island Tuesday to provide temporary power to residents stranded on the island, officials said.
Locations where N.C. 12 washed out:
View NC Highway 12 damage in a larger map