Most NC beaches rebound from Irene for holiday weekend
Posted September 2, 2011 6:36 p.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2011 8:15 p.m. EDT
Nags Head, N.C. — After shutting down last weekend for Hurricane Irene and spending much of the past week cleaning up after the storm, businesses along much of North Carolina's coast spent Friday welcoming tourists back to the beach for the Labor Day weekend.
People visiting beaches from Nags Head to Corolla said they were hard-pressed to know that a hurricane had blown through the area six days earlier. Much of the damage Irene caused along the coast was on the sound side of the barrier islands, where surging waters destroyed docks and flooded homes and businesses.
"There's a lot of stuff on the side of the roads for the cleanup crew. (There are) some shingles missing on the ocean side (and) some missing siding, but for the most part, it was all on the sound side," said Tad Lemery, who was visiting Nags Head from New York state.
Lee Nettles, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, credits local retailers for putting their own problems aside to cater to the visitors that the region depends upon so heavily for its economic success.
"While are are recovering from a hurricane, when they get on the northern beaches, I think they're going to be be surprised at the lack of damage that's visible," Nettles said. "But a lot of the folks (who) live here are dealing with their own personal problems, so we'd just appreciate a little extra patience."
Hatteras and Ocracoke islands remained off-limits to tourists after Irene ripped up N.C. Highway 12, which is the main artery for traffic on the Outer Banks.
"There is no doubt that it's going to impact our business," Nettles said. "I think we are going to recover. I think we are going to come through it just fine."
About 70 percent of the lodging in Dare County is north of Hatteras Island, he said, and tourism officials have been able to shift reservations people had on the island to hotels on the northern beaches.
Richmond, Va., resident Mike Maruca said he visits Manteo and the Outer Banks regularly.
"Down there where we are staying, we see an awful lot of damage in some of the retail outlets and the bookstore in Manteo, which is one of our favorite places, which may not open up again," Maruca said. "It's a different story, I think, than out on the actual beach, where I think it worked out OK for them."
The beach situation also worked out for Lauren Nieuwenhuis, who worried that Irene would force her to cancel her wedding.
"It's been a little stressful. We didn't know there for a couple of days that we were going to make it down," Nieuwenhuis said.
"It was scary," said her mother, Trudy Nieuwenhuis. "It was, 'Oh no!' We just kept watching the TV, and then finally I said, 'You know what, turn it off. We just have to wait and see what happens.'"
"I got to the point where I said to my wedding planner, 'I'll give up whatever I need to give up as long as we can still be here,'" Lauren Nieuwenhuis said.
She and her fiance married on the Nags Head beach Friday evening, although some guests couldn't attend because Irene had flooded their homes in New Jersey.
"I'm just so happy to be here. The houses are standing. The beach is good," Lauren Nieuwenhuis said.
"I feel like I'm going to cry, but I won't," Trudy Nieuwenhuis said. "This has been her wish. This has been her dream."
Crystal Coast works hard to recover
Farther south on Bogue Banks, where Irene made landfall, fewer people were on the beaches than local officials anticipated. Still, they were optimistic for a solid holiday weekend.
The Sheraton Hotel in Atlantic Beach, which lost part of its pier in the storm, remains closed because of extensive water damage, but many other retailers and restaurants along the beach had reopened for the last major tourism weekend of the summer.
The staff at the Channel Marker restaurant worked frantically on repairs in an effort to open for dinner Friday. The restaurant had up to 8 inches of water inside, and crews had to replace the carpet, tear out the walls, put in new drywall and paint everything.
"We have all hands on deck as far as the culinary team (and) our service team," manager Mallory Myers said. "We've missed everybody."
They also restocked their shelves after Irene spoiled thousands of dollars in food.
"Everything is fresh. We've been getting it in since Thursday," Myers said.
Along with a full menu, the restaurant plans to offer feature items under names like "The Storm Surge."
"We've got drink specials (like) the Irene Aftermath and those kinds of things to make people smile and joke at a table," she said.
As with the Outer Banks, visitors said the cleanup effort after Irene was obvious.
"There's a little bit of debris, but it's not bad," said Beth Cappes of New Bern. "The waves are great, and it's not very crowded at all."
"It looks like it's going to be a great weekend and everybody's going to be able to enjoy themselves," said LaJon Pryor, a Maryland resident who has a vacation home in Newport.
Burlington resident Wayne King had no plans to be in Atlantic Beach this week. Damage to his vacation home a quarter-mile from the water changed that.
“The holiday weekend makes it a little more painful,” King said.
The situation was also disappointing for King’s incoming renters.
“We were not able to let them come and use it, just too dangerous,” he said.
Two state parks closed
Damage from Irene forced the Dismal Swamp State Park in Camden County and the Goose Creek State Park in Beaufort County to remain closed through the Labor Day weekend.
Hammocks Beach State Park in Onslow County and Pettigrew State Park in Washington County have reopened for the weekend, but all trails at Pettigrew are still closed because of unsafe conditions.