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Outer Banks outage means evacuations, ruined vacations

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It could be days, even weeks for power to be restored on parts of the Outer Banks.

An estimated 10,000 tourists were ordered to evacuate an island on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Thursday after a construction company caused a power outage, leaving people searching for a place to eat, stay cool or resume interrupted vacations.

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With the power outage expected to take days or weeks to resolve, officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors to Ocracoke island, and no one will be allowed on the island unless they can prove residency.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued a State of Emergency for Hatteras and Ocracoke islands on Thursday evening.

"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.

Vehicles line up at a gas station on Thursday on Ocracoke Island as visitors leave the island and residents fuel up.



There is no deadline on when visitors must be off the island but Hyde County officials are requesting that all visitors attempt to be off the island by noon Friday.

RELATED: Read the Hyde County evacuation order (.pdf)

A construction company says it drove a steel casing into an electric transmission cable while working on a new bridge on the North Carolina coast, causing a power outage affecting two islands on the state's Outer Banks.

Ferries are running on their normal schedules.

The N.C. 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.

The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative says PCL Construction, the company constructing the new Bonner Bridge, informed the utility of the accident on Thursday, hours after power was disrupted to thousands of people on Ocracoke and Hatteras islands.

Ice was on display Thursday at the Variety Store on Ocracoke Island.



CHEC said it is working to assess the extent of the damage and plan for the repair. Spokeswoman Laura Ertle said Roanoke, Virginia-based New River Electrical Corp., which erected the cable on the original Bonner Bridge in 1995, is coming to the coast to dig up the cable to assess the damage.

"Did PCL just nick one of the cables? Is it worse than that?" Ertle said. "Once they get here and put eyes on it, then we'll have a really better sense of what we're looking at in terms of repair time."

If the necessary materials are on hand, repairs could take several days, Ertle said. If the items are not available locally, repairs could take weeks.

DIESEL GENERATORS MEAN POWER FOR SOME

CHEC said power is currently available for Buxton, Frisco and part of Hatteras Village through a diesel generating plant. The cooperative said it would also initiate rolling blackouts, but only if people turn off air conditioning units and minimize other electrical usage. Ten portable generators are being brought in, Ertle said.



Cooper's executive order waives restrictions on weight and the hours of service for fuel, utility and other truck drivers that may be working to deliver supplies and other resources needed to restore power in the affected areas. The waiver is in effect until rescinded.

Officials said about 9,000 customers are without power on the two islands - about 7,700 on Hatteras and another 1,300 on Ocracoke.

VACATION PLANS SCRAMBLED

Erica Plouffe Lazure was visiting Ocracoke from Exeter, New Hampshire, with a friend, but had to cut her trip short and head north to Elizabeth City. She said two restaurants on Ocracoke are using generators to stay open, but the motel she booked for her stay closed after its generator exploded minutes after it was started.

"There's a lot of hot, sweaty people here," Lazure said, and she added that she tried to book a motel further up the North Carolina coast, only to find they were either sold out or asking as much as $500 a night.

"This is a beautiful island and I waited two years to come back here because it's one of my favorite places in the world," she said. "I'm a little bummed that the power has gotten in the way, but, till next time."

Ertle sympathized with people inconvenienced by the outage.

"We know that people are spending a lot of money to come down here and they look forward to their vacation on Hatteras Island every year," she said. "We know that they're getting frustrated, but we just really appreciate their patience."

It was a good beach day, at least. The afternoon saw sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-80s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
power outagenorth carolina newsevacuationbeachesHatteras Island
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