OUTER BANKS, N.C. (WAVY/AP) — A mandatory evacuation is in effect for Hatteras Island, as both residents and vacationers in the Outer Banks keep a close eye on approaching Hurricane Arthur.
Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency Wednesday as the storm strengthened and churned it’s way toward the state. Later in the day, the National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for all of Dare County.
Around 6 p.m., Dare County emergency management issued a mandatory evacuation for both visitors and residents of Hatteras Island, beginning at 5 a.m. Thursday. After that time, there will be no access to the island.
A voluntary evacuation was also issued from Hyde County earlier Wednesday, particularly for Ocracoke Island, which is only accessible by ferry.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division began round-the-clock service from Ocracoke to Hatteras Island, and will continue until 5 p.m. Thursday. Four boats will also be used as shuttles, making unscheduled runs between the islands.
More departures have also been added to the Hatteras Inlet schedule for Thursday morning and early afternoon — click here for a complete schedule.
Priority loading status and tolls are waived for all departures from Ocracoke until the evacuation order is lifted.
Those evacuating are advised to do so during daylight hours before the effects of Hurricane Arthur have the chance to overwash NC Highway 12. If evacuees are traveling north of Dare County, they are asked to use westbound Highway 64 to Interstate 95; that will help cut down on traffic congestion through Hampton Roads.
Long lines formed at local gas stations and ferry terminals Wednesday night. While Hatteras native Dale Stump was fueling up, too, he said he won’t be leaving: “Arthur? It’s just some wind and rain. Been through Irene, Isabele, all of them.”
Phillip Beck of Rodanthe has no plans to head for the mainland either, even knowing what he does about hurricanes: “Irene, my last one, was a disaster; thirty inches of water in my house, my dog swimming around my living room. If I had left, though, everything I had would have been ruined.”
Stores saw runs on generators, lanterns and flashlights. Longtime Hatteras resident Dawn Taylor said she had stocked up on supplies, but was otherwise unfazed by Arthur’s approach. Even though she had to put coolers on the top floor of her home in Avon to catch the rain after Hurricane Irene damaged the roof in 2011, she won’t leave her home because of a hurricane. And certainly not this one. Even her 85-year-old father is staying put with her.
And her advice to less experienced tourists? Think twice before riding things out on the island: “It’s not their environment. They’re not used to it,” she said. “It’s a whole different world out here, a whole different lifestyle.”
The area’s tourism agency expects about 250,000 people to be in the Outer Banks for the holiday weekend.
“We want everybody to be safe and prepared, but we are not overly concerned at this point,” said Lee Nettles, the executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. He noted that forecasters were predicting the storm would move fast and be less severe than others in locals’ memories.
But flooding concerns remained: Twice in recent years, storm-driven waves have sliced North Carolina Route 12, the main road along the islands, rendering it impassable. Tony Tata with NCDOT said crews are staging more than 25 additional front-end loaders and other heavy equipment along Highway 12 in Ocracoke, Rodanthe and Pea Island south of the Bonner Bridge. More equipment will be mobilized if needed.
Some vacationers are staying put, like Susan Manning from Bethel, N.C. “We are keeping our eye on it,” she said. “My sister lives down here, and the locals don’t seem to be to worried, so we aren’t worried yet.”
Karyn Lange, however, is cutting her vacation short. She plans to leave Thursday and head home to New York. “Our family comes every year, Fourth of July week. We spend about two weeks, and it’s been happening for about 30 years, and we never expected a storm at this time of year,” Lange said.
And Lange isn’t the only one surprised. Many find it hard to believe a tropical storm, possibly a hurricane, is coming so early in the season. Most don’t come until July, August or September, and the timing couldn’t be worse for those who make their living on tourism.
Grant Labonte who works in Rodanthe every summer said the storm was a disappointment for many people on the island: “You work here, you thrive off the Fourth of July profit, so it’s kind of a bummer to have this all happen. A storm coming in on a big weekend like this is not good.”
At the Outer Banks Fishing Pier in Nags Head, Owner Gary Oliver said the storm will hit his bottom line whether it turns out to be big or small. That’s because just to prepare for the possibility of a hurricane, he has to close down and board up Thursday and stay closed Friday to take it all down.
While most businesses see a 20 percent increase in sales over the Fourth of July weekend, the local tourism agency doesn’t think the storm will have a significant impact on overall tourism dollars. That’s because Arthur is a fast-moving storm, and most tourists stay for a whole week at at time.
Stay with WAVY.com for more on this developing story.