Locals used to taking slow boat to Hatteras after storms

Commercial trucks, personal vehicles, workers, business owners and residents all line up to get on a ferry to Hatteras Island, the only means of transportation to Rodanthe and all points south since Hurricane Sandy hit last weekend.

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STUMPY POINT, N.C. — As the night sky gives way to morning light, the ferry dock at Stumpy Point becomes a focal point for local travel.

Commercial trucks, personal vehicles, workers, business owners and residents all line up to get on the ferry to Hatteras Island, the only means of transportation to Rodanthe and points south since Hurricane Sandy hit last weekend, closing down Bonner Bridge and N.C. Highway 12.

As the sun finally breaks the horizon, the ferry pulls into the dock, and trucks and vehicles crawl on board after what has for some been more than two-hour wait.

"I've taken the ferry quite a few times last year after Hurricane Irene, so I'm use to the process and the wait," Avon business owner Brian Klauser said early Thursday.

The state started running the emergency ferries on Tuesday to deliver supplies and emergency equipment to Hatteras Island, give business owners and residents a chance to check on their properties and allow stranded residents a chance to get out.

The process has been frustrating for many because there's no guarantee of getting on the ferry once in line. For the lucky ones, the trip across Pamlico Sound to Rodanthe takes roughly two hours on choppy waters that tend to rock the ferry a bit.

Like Klauser, Gregg Beck is familiar with the crossing. He works for Ferrellgas, a propane supplier in Nags Head, and was headed to Hatteras Island to check on his business and residential customers.

"Restaurants need to cook food, hotels have to clean their laundry and dry the laundry, and homes need heat," Beck said.

After the ferry docked near Rodanthe, everyone scrambled off to see firsthand the damage Sandy inflicted on the area.

"There's still nothing like seeing the property yourself and know that everything is safe and sound," Jim Pereira said.

Pereira and his wife, Laura, bought a vacation house in Buxton only three months ago, and they thought they were out of the woods this year as far as hurricanes go.

"We were feeling really good and really confident, and then Mother Nature just plays a trick on you, I guess," he said.

Longtime resident Billy Moseley said he wasn't surprised when he saw condemned signs on a row of beachfront homes in Rodanthe that were damaged in the storm.

"Any time we have a storm where the wind is going to blow for more than 24 hours, 40 miles, 50 miles, 60 miles an hour, it's going to knock some stuff out," Moseley said. "You don't slow down Mother Nature."

State officials said property owners whose beachfront homes are still habitable will be given an emergency permit to use bulldozers to rebuild dunes eroded by Sandy. Residents must obtain any other federal and local approvals, and all work must be done within a year, officials said.

Dare County Emergency Management Director Sandy Sanderson said visitors will be allowed back on the island beginning Friday as ferry service expands. The state Department of Transportation will add three runs to the Stumpy Point-Rodanthe route on Saturday, for 10 daily round trips.

"There will be some delays, but if you're patient, you can get through," Sanderson said.

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DOT crews are working to clear 3 to 4 feet of sand that Sandy dumped on N.C. 12 between the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Rodanthe so they can repair the damage to the island's main thoroughfare, such as buckled pavement near Mirlo Beach.

Sanderson said the clean-up effort appears to be ahead of schedule, and the highway should be reopened by Thanksgiving.

"The sticking point will be replacing the asphalt – getting all that out – and putting in a new roadbed," he said.

Late fall is usually a slow time for tourists on North Carolina's coast, so the area shouldn't take too much of an economic hit from the storm, Sanderson said.

"Everything's back open. We're business as usual," he said.

Moseley said he knows from experience that all that could change in the next storm.

"We had Irene last year where it came through here from the back side and just scoured all that, took all the sand away," he said. "Now, we got a storm that hits us from this side and brings all that sand back in. So, Mother Nature sort of has its balance."


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