Standing Up to Hurricane Earl

On Wednesday at 11 AM, September 1, 2010, and on Thursday, September 2, the Dare County Control Group issued a mandatory evacuation for all vacationers, then residents, of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. A couple of weeks before, a heat blast blows past the west coast of Africa, turns into a hurricane, rakes the windward Caribbean Islands, grows into a frightening Category 4, and the cone of uncertainty points at Hatteras Island. Hurricane Earl, with 140 MPH + hurricane winds, torrential rains and huge seas, was grinding up the coast towards the Outer Banks.  

We were as prepared as anyone could be when a hurricane comes. We had handed out Hurricane Preparation Sheets to our previous Saturday and Sunday rental guests. Staff grabbed zones sheets and each rental house was methodically called, advising a hurricane was eminent. We informed guests as to where to go and asked them to complete the Hurricane Preparation Task List.

All employees of Hatteras Realty were called in to secure our homes and to help in the evacuation process. All of our rental guests were great. Many cooperated in buttoning down homes before we arrived for our hurricane check. We shut and thumb tested window locks, brought in or tied down deck furniture and trash containers and shut off the power. We worked late into the night on Wednesday. We were back at it early Thursday morning and secured the remainder of the homes as spits of rain pelted us from the frontal assault of Hurricane Earl.

By mid-afternoon a stiff breeze was blowing across the island.  We secured the Waves, Avon and Hatteras offices, installed storm panels, bought $1,500 worth of groceries and lugged them up to the upstairs kitchen, and encouraged those too nervous to ride out the storm to leave after securing our homes.  About 100 of our staff left the island and about 70 stayed in various places on the island.  Stuart Pack (GM), Mary Pinkston (Accounting Director), Viviana Knight (Housekeeping Assistant), her husband and two children, me and 19 of our foreign workers from Mexico and Lithuania hunkered down at our Avon office.

The eye of Hurricane Earl scooted by 85 miles east of Cape Hatteras about 3 AM on Friday morning. The storm was no Isabel, but wind gusts reaching hurricane force were clocked at 78 MPH in Salvo and at 105 MPH Hatteras Village. The wind blew, the rain pelted, and the power flickered and then fizzled out in various sections of the island.

I don’t know exactly how much rain we had but Highway 12 in Avon was flooded to a depth of 3 feet or more from sound tide. On Friday about noon while driving to Buxton from Avon, you could see the tide line against the backside of the oceanfront dunes. The sound tide must have been 5 ft or so across Highway12 in that area.

Hatteras Village probably had the highest and most consistent wind velocity of all the villages. The sound tide was estimated to have been 6 ½ feet above normal.  Hurricane Emily in 1993 was somewhere around 8 feet.  The highest tide was the ocean wash event in Hatteras Village caused by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.  From Earl, another 2 inches (!!!) and the water would have entered into our Hatteras Village Office and caused major damage to the walls, carpet and flooring, furniture and equipment. Whew.

What damage did our homes sustain?  Many homes lost shingles, some windows were blown out on the oceanfront, many of our NE, N and NW facing sliders in homes leaked gallons of water. On the sound front, some docks and bulk heads were lifted up or suffered damage.  We lost some entry steps and a couple of sound front A/C stands.

With the storm hitting on a Friday and re-entry starting at 7 AM on Saturday, it was a real struggle to assess the condition of our homes as well as to get the houses cleaned for the army of rental guests queued up behind the police barricade in Nags Head waiting to start their vacations. About 6 of our homes were not rentable due to windows being blown out, severe roof damage, steps missing, etc.  Many of our homes suffered other damage such as torn or missing window screens and messy yards that may take a few weeks for us to completely address. Many have water spots on the ceiling that hopefully will fade over time.
 
We worked like demons to ready our homes after the evacuation was prematurely lifted.   Each Hatteras Realty staff member is physically and emotionally exhausted. When a hurricane comes, it is akin to a combat situation. I am sincerely grateful to our staff for the supreme effort put forth in caring for our homes.

My staff was out during the long days of the storm inspecting homes, throwing out rotting food and mopping up water. We then set out all the deck furniture, put out all the trash cans, cleaned up the trash left by our fleeing rental guests, and readied the homes for Saturday check-in. We are still working on repairs from the storm and in some places there is still some sound water on the roads, but ultimately we were very fortunate Earl passed by us with minimal damage.
                                                                   
R. Stewart Couch, CCIM, CRB, CRS

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