CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (WAVY/AP) — Thousands of tourists who spent the winter dreaming of summer vacation on the Outer Banks now face an abrupt end to their trip and what could be a chaotic ride back to the mainland after a construction company cut an electrical wire, causing a power outage.
A mandatory evacuation has been ordered for visitors on both Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.
The Hatteras Island evacuation was issued Friday night and is effective at 6 a.m. Saturday. The evacuation order includes the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras. This evacuation order does not include any areas north of Oregon Inlet. All areas north of Oregon Inlet remain open with no restrictions in place.
Officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for all visitors on Ocracoke Island effective at 5 p.m. Thursday. Hyde County public information officer Donnie Shumate said the main concern was safety. The evacuation order remains in effect. No one will be allowed onto the island unless they can prove residency, officials said.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency for Ocracoke and Hatteras islands Thursday night.
“This declaration will allow us to move much-needed resources through the state as quickly as possible to help restore the power to Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands,” Cooper said.
The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative said in a news release that PCL Construction told the utility it had driven a steel casing into an electric transmission cable while working on the new Bonner Bridge on the state’s coast around 4:30 Thursday morning, inadvertently severing power to Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.
PCL issued a statement Thursday night, which said in part, “We are actively working with NCDOT and Cape Hatteras Electric to determine the cause of the issue while assisting in restoring power as quickly as possible.”
The outage comes during peak tourist season, which runs from mid-June through Labor Day.
Ferries are currently running on normal schedules. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division says priority boarding is suspended for all vehicles leaving Ocracoke. Tolls will be waived for ferry trips between Ocracoke and Cedar Island or Swan Quarter.
As of 1:30 p.m., the NCDOT Ferry Division reported that they had evacuated 3,704 people and 1,372 vehicles from the island. If you have any questions about ferry reservations, cancellations or refunds, call the NCDOT Ferry Division at 252-928-5311.
The Cape Point Campground, Frisco Campground, and Ocracoke Campground are closed and will remain closed until the evacuation orders are lifted. The Oregon Inlet Campground remains open; however, it is expected to fill to capacity this weekend.
Those evacuating from Ocracoke to Hatteras are being asked to wait until they get north of Oregon Inlet to get gas or lodging, as the area is facing shortages.
CHEC said it is working to assess the extent of the damage and plan for the repair. PCL is excavating the site. Once that’s done, crews can assess the damage and get an idea of a timeline for repairs. Officials hope to have the repair assesment done by Saturday afternoon. Crews will continue working through the night.
Repairs could take days to weeks, depending on the extent of the damage and the materials needed to fix the issue.
Officials said about 9,000 customers are without power on the two islands — about 7,700 on Hatteras and another 1,300 on Ocracoke.
CHEC is currently providing temporary power to Buxton, Frisco and part of Hatteras Village by diesel generators. The cooperative tweeted Friday morning that three additional portable generators arrived at the Waves substation, while another one went to Avon.
CHEC spokesperson Laura Ertle says nine portable generators are being brought to Hatteras — six are there now, they are waiting for three more — from different areas of the East Coast. CHEC posted a picture to Twitter Friday morning with text reading, “Crews continue to work on hooking up portable generators to supply [Hatteras Island] w temporary power.”
Tideland Electric says an attempt to run the Ocracoke generator on Thursday wasn’t successful and resulted in damage that makes it inoperable. Three mobile generators were sent to the island Friday to get the island circuits started.
Tideland posted to Facebook Friday morning that crews made headway with the smallest of the three generators the company will be using to provide power. The generator powers homes in the lighthouse area and was energized around 3:30 a.m. Two other generators arrived Friday afternoon, though one is missing the equipment needed to connect it to the circuit. Tideland is in the process of connecting the one generator. Officials say they hope to have it operational before 12:00 a.m.
CHEC will begin rolling blackouts once the generators are all online. The cooperative says this will only be possible if residents TURN OFF their air conditioning and minimize other electrical usages to conserve energy.
Mandatory power conservation measures have been implemented for Hatteras Island. Residents are being asked to shut off all non-essential breakers, and to limit the use of refrigerators and fans.
The Dare County Water Department has issued a water conservation alert for Hatteras Island customers. Residents and visitors are asked to take special measures to conserve water as much as possible because water production capacity is diminished due to the power outage. The water is still safe to drink.
To reduce the risk of fire during a power outage, use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns instead of candles. Remember that portable generators should only be used outdoors.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore said Friday a majority of its visitor services and facilities would remain open. This includes the following:
- Cape Point Campground
- Oregon Inlet Campground
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Bodie Island Lighthouse
- Hatteras Island Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Permit Office
- Bodie Island ORV Permit Office
- Beach access ramps and routes
- Lifeguarded beaches
The Frisco Campground is closed through Friday and the Ocracoke Campground will be closed until the county’s evacuation order is lifted.
Park officials say the campground has an independent water plant that requires “continual and reliable power to provide safe drinking water and operable restroom facilities.”
Camp sites are available at nearby Cape Point Campground, officials say.
The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department will be open to the public as a cooling and charging station starting Friday at 8:00 a.m. Medical personnel will be on site to help treat any heat-related illness.
CHEC and Tideland Electric are providing periodic updates on their Facebook pages. You can also text “Join Hatteras Power” to 51664 to receive updates from Dare County Emergency Management.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.