NC Joins Feds to Rebuild Weathered N.C. 12 by October

Mon September 29, 2003 - Southeast Edition

EDENTON, NC (AP) This Colonial-era town was among the worst-hit inland locations, but floodwater from Hurricane Isabel receded rapidly, leaving months of cleanup for the residents living on the picturesque bay.

On the weekend following the storm, which landed on the North Carolina coastline Sept. 18, downed trees and power lines littered residential streets of the long-ago state capital, forcing vehicles to weave through the tangles. Water from the bay and creeks was driven into town by high winds, flooding some homes and pushing a few sailboats off their moorings onto land.

Approximately three-quarters of the town’s businesses were closed, a situation repeated across the northeastern slice of the state where power remained out for days in scores of small towns and crossroad communities.

Chain saws were buzzing and generators were humming as construction crews worked to dry out the floors of waterfront houses. Power crews were at work. Neighbors surveyed damage at each other’s homes. One resident put boxes of doughnuts on a table in the front yard.

Many of city streets, narrowed to a single lane because of debris, were lined with downed power lines.

Charles Jones, emergency management director across the Chowan River in Hertford County, said the wait for relief supplies was frustrating, although the county had seen some help.

Three generators to run water systems and help in the form of out-of-town emergency management coordinators and law enforcement had arrived, Jones said. In addition, chain saw operators from the state Forest Service came to clear trees off of roads.

“We requested much more: ice, water, tarps,” Jones said. “You get frustrated when you can’t get items to people that they need. They want things they can put their hands on.

“You want to say, here’s your bag of ice and here’s the tarp to cover your roof,” he said.

Problems persisted in Bertie County, as well, where downed trees blocked many roads and forestry crews arrived to saw through the tangles. Most of the county had no power, but one generator arrived to pump water from wells into county storage tanks, said County Manager Zee Lamb.

“There’s no power, and Dominion’s saying it could take up to 30 days for the northeast part of the county to get it back,” Lamb said. “That’s where the worst damage was done.”

Not everyone was frustrated by the pace of federal recovery efforts.

“I’m sure we could use the federal government’s help, but look around: We’re working hard,” said Sam Dixon, 42, an Edenton lawyer who lives a block from the waterfront in a house built in 1810. “We’re just lucky to be here. Everybody takes care of everybody. It’s just a small town.”

Despite the grumbling from some community leaders, Gov. Mike Easley said he was impressed with the federal government’s response.

“This is the first time in my career that a federal agency has called me before I called them,” Easley said at the news conference with Tom Ridge, Federal Homeland Security secretary.

Over the weekend, residents also were allowed to return to Ocracoke Island, reachable only by ferry. The grocery store was open, although it hadn’t been resupplied.

“My place fared very well,” said James Tucker, 31, a bartender on the island, adding that several trees in his yard were blown down.

Tucker said the north end of the island, mostly uninhabited federal seashore, was wrecked. The road, N.C. 12, was covered with sand and utility poles were down or blown away.

Ridge said that all federal permitting required for rebuilding N.C. 12 on Hatteras Island has been expedited and work will begin soon. The remnants of the broken roadbed can be seen under the waves crashing along the new inlet, which left people trapped in the village of Hatteras at the island’s southern end.

On Sept. 23, North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippit announced a cooperative action plan to repair the roadway.

“After a careful consultation with state and federal resource agencies, we have initiated a cooperative action plan to repair N.C. 12 from Frisco to Hatteras,” said Tippett. “We will work closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and all other agencies involved to ensure that the highway is repaired in an expedient, yet environmentally-sound manner. We plan to complete all work by the end of October, at which time traffic will flow once again.”

As part of the action plan, NCDOT is already working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its supporting agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to initiate the necessary environmental permits to fill the 1,700-ft. (518 m) wide inlet with sand. Currently, the Corps has mobilized a dredge from Norfolk to be used in the work and has redirected approximately 30 personnel from the Wilmington area for the effort. In addition to the Corps, NCDOT will work with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, which oversees the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Following closure of the inlet, NCDOT will rebuild this section of highway.

But, after working around the clock during the weekend following the storm, NCDOT cleared debris from most primary and secondary roads affected by Hurricane Isabel throughout northeastern North Carolina. Throughout the recovery, NCDOT deployed more than 2,000 employees and 400 pieces of equipment, including bulldozers, front-end loaders, earth movers, motor graders and dump trucks. Crews from as far west as Greensboro assisted in the effort. The department has been working – and will continue to work – alongside power companies to remove the debris necessary to restore power throughout affected areas.