Storm chews up Wrightsville Beach
Posted September 26, 2008 4:01 p.m. EDT
Updated September 26, 2008 6:57 p.m. EDT
Wrightsville Beach, N.C. — A nor'easter that lashed the North Carolina coast this week made the sands of Wrightsville Beach its biggest victim.
The storm's eye made landfall at Wrightsville early Friday. Bad timing and nature's fury, expressed in 60 mph winds, caused significant erosion along the popular beach.
"High tide came in last night around 6 in the evening," said Mike Vukelich, Wrightsville's public works director. "That, with around a 4-foot storm surge, created wave action that was substantially higher than expected."
Vukelich added that the storm caused more widespread and deeper erosion than anticipated.
On Friday, owners surveyed the damage where waves had torn out sand from around the foundations of some beach homes. Normal-sized waves easily swamped over sandbags surrounding cottages and came up to the edge of staircases.
"It's much worse than I thought it would be," Vukelich said.
Elsewhere along the Outer Banks, cars splashed through water still covering some stretches of N.C. Highway 12. In other places, bulldozer operators worked to remove sand blown on the highway, which is the only north-south link along the barrier islands.
Nags Head officials condemned about a dozen beach homes due to storm damage.
People who weathered out the storm in Wrightsville said they saw the nor'easter undo in hours what nature had taken years to build.
"No one got any warning on this one," visitor Sandy Pittenger said. "Greg Fishel even said, 'You got this low pressure, and this thing's going to turn into a nor'easter,' and it did."
Wrightsville officials said they will bring in bulldozers to shore up the beaches and make them passable for visitors.
But the damage comes in an area of Wrightsville where beach erosion had already been a concern. Local officials said a long-term fix will require massive replenishment to protect vulnerable homes from the ocean.
Communities with long-term beach nourishment plans will be exempted from some new state rules increasing the distance that buildings must be set back from the beach.
The Coastal Resources Commission on Friday approved new setback rules based on the estimated annual erosion rates for various stretches of beach. The required setbacks increase with buildings' sizes, rising to 90 times the erosion rate for structures larger than 100,000 feet.
However, limited development could be allowed seaward of the setback lines for localities that have a 30-year plan to deal with replenishment. The setback requirement for large buildings could be reduced to 60 times the erosion rate.