Local News

N.C. Beaches Sweep Bonnie Away for Holiday Weekend

Posted September 1, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Hurricane Bonnie huffed and puffed, but she did not blow the North Carolina beaches away.

Now the goal is to make sure the debris Bonnie left behind is gone for the last big summer weekend.

By Friday, the state hopes to clear up one of the state's biggest messes, thousands of tires that have washed up in Carteret County. But tourist towns must still fight another battle against perception.

Many areas still have not recovered the traffic lost after Hurricane Fran. This time the beaches are taking the offensive.

Only a week after Hurricane Bonnie lashed the Carolina coast, vacationers were back in the water at Wrightsville Beach.

One can still see signs that a hurricane blew through the area. But for the most part, things are back to normal.

A set of newspaper ads by some of the coastal tourism bureaus are designed to make sure people get that message, with the lucrative Labor Day weekend just hours away.

"We basically had already put together a crisis plan," beach tourism booster Russ Wallace said. "We had the advertisement canned. We were ready to go with it. We knew where we wanted to place it, and we were able to execute that plan within a matter of about 24 to 36 hours."

In New Hanover County, hotel tax revenues are up 10-to-15 percent so far this year, a good indicator of increased tourist traffic. Nervous business owners do not want Hurricane Bonnie to spoil that trend, especially as they head into one of their most important weekends of the season.

"We're very nervous about what the long term effect is going to be," hotel owner Mary Baggett-Martin said. "We obviously have a perception problem."

Tourists visiting the coast say that beachside businesses have little to worry about.

"There was nothing, it doesn't really seem that anything happened," one tourist said.

But even if the perceptions left by Hurricane Bonnie do not have an impact on North Carolina's tourist trade, another hurricane could still do some damage. Rain from the remnants of Hurricane Earl could make the Labor Day weekend a washout.

While Bonnie left the state with a nearly $2 billion cleaning bill Carolina Power and Light is also paying for the power of the storm.

CP&L says it spent $25 million turning the electricity back on. It is the second most expensive storm cleanup for the utility. For the record, Hurricane Fran cost the utility company $95 million in repairs.