|Photo by Casey Robertson|
I am writing to you from inside our gutted home that was built by my wife’s grandfather, Lawton Howard, in 1957. Although he grew up on Ocracoke Island and his family roots went all the way back to the quartermaster on Blackbeard’s ship, Lawton left Ocracoke Island in 1927 at age of 16 to find employment in the Philadelphia area, working for the Core of Engineers as a welder on dredges and tugs. He met his wife Connie in the big city, and they raised a family there. But Lawton always considered Ocracoke Island to be his true home. Upon retirement, Lawton and Connie returned to Ocracoke and built this small cottage. Knowing that the storm of 1944 had the greatest flood level known, Amy’s grandparents wisely chose to build their house above that mark, an elevation that served them well during their lifetime.
|Hidden treasure! When we gutted our house, we found a stud where Amy's grandfather had signed his name . . ."Lawton Howard. Moved in June 22, 1957." Underneath, we had the Samaritan's Purse volunteers continue the story by signing their names.|
|The Variety Store takes advantage of its lost sign to inspire the village|
At the Howard family’s shop, the Village Craftsmen, there are wooden signs that mark the flood levels since the shop opened fifty years ago. In 2004, hurricane Alex surprised the village and flooded hundreds of visitors’ cars, but not many structures. In 2016 hurricane Matthew brought four inches more and the water invaded some of the lower buildings in the community. Hurricane Dorian’s 7 foot storm surge jumped that level 2.5 feet higher, bringing about 10 inches into the store.
|Dorian's tide line is the smaller sign on Village Craftsmen building, behind the others. . . about 2.5 feet above Matthew.|
In a historic community, many of the most susceptible structures are the historic homes. But Dorian water levels also invaded spaces thought to be safely out of reach. . . The Post Office, the bank, the school, and the United Methodist Church. Ocracoke Alive’s home base at Deepwater Theater received about 3 ft of water. The space was built to be easily cleaned out with minimal floods, but this far exceeded anticipated levels.
|Dorian flood waters reached the level of the door windows at the Deepwater Theater|
|Debris from the tear-out at Jason's Restaurant fills the parking lot. Jason had just completed a renovation of his business in the winter of 2018-2019. The Post Office flag flies in the background.|
|Debris along side the road heading out of Ocracoke Village|
While we mull over our options, most of our time is occupied with demolition, deconstruction, mold mitigation, and stabilizing what remains. Fortunately, Ocracoke has a large fan base and resources and service groups have poured in to assist with tear-outs, provide supplies and feed the community and volunteers working dawn to dusk. The Ocracoke Fire Department overflows with canned goods, baby supplies, cleaning equipment, tubs, generators, and clothes (Residents have begun to affectionately call it Fire-Mart).
|The shelves are stocked at the "Fire-Mart"|
Around the island, double container trucks with claw cranes work to keep up with the towering piles of house debris, mattresses, appliances . . . a lifetime worth of stories & dreams amongst the rubble. County Commissioner Tom Pahl remarked at community meeting on Sunday, that by the time these clean-up crews reached the end of Lighthouse Road, they could have turned around and started again. This debris is hauled to the Lifeguard Beach parking and deposited. Gradually, the 400 flooded cars are being gathered by tow trucks, but there are still quite a number around town.
|A claw truck makes the rounds near Ride the Wind surf shop. To the right is a storage container for the Ragpicker shop|
When will life return to normal? When can visitors return?
|The growing pile at the Lifeguard Beach parking.|
I always like to tell visitors that the magic of Ocracoke Island is its perfect combination of remote isolation, quaint historic village, stunning beaches and marshes, and unique restaurants and shops. But with all of these assets, it is our welcoming community that anchors this place and draws visitors back each year. Three hundred years of hosting travelers from around the globe has seeped into the bedrock of Ocracoke villagers. If you have visited us here, chances are you have come away feeling like you are part of our extended family. That resilient spirit is hard to wash away.
|Still celebrating community. Philip Howard calls a squaredance on the new docks at the Community Square, built by the Ocracoke Foundation this summer. Photo by Casey Robertson.|
Many supporters are eagerly contacting us, hoping for information on when they can return to show their love to the island. While news of Dorian’s damage to Ocracoke has quickly slipped off the national radar, our recovery will not be so speedy. No definitive dates have been given, but we have been led to understand that in order for recovery to progress, Highway 12 heading to the north end on Ocracoke will need to be repaired. An early timetable estimate on that is mid-November. Once that route has been reestablished, it will be much easier for the truckloads of building supplies and workers to reach the village.
In the meantime, Ocracoke residents will have a long and challenging winter ahead. For most workers and businesses, the financial break-even point of the season is the end of the summer. Fall is when funds are set aside to sustain through the off season and ramp up for the next year. Many islanders have not only lost year-round housing, lost employees who have moved on, they have also lost a sense of security and stability.
How can I help?
Ocracoke Alive is recommending two ways that you can donate to help the community.
1. Assist Ocracoke Alive through a tax-deductible donation to help repair Deepwater Theater at www.ocracokealive.org or mail a contribution to Ocracoke Alive, PO Box 604, Ocracoke, NC 27960. Donations made through our Ocracoke Alive General Contribution Fund will help us get Deepwater Theater back in operation so that this fall and winter, our space will be available for student and community activities and meetings. As you can imagine, a multipurpose space is much in need with so many structures damaged. Fortunately, we had moved many of our supplies to our new storage shed, but we still anticipate about $25,000 in repairs. The Outer Banks Community Foundation has generously started us off by awarding Ocracoke Alive $5000 to replace contents lost (fridge, tables, displays).
2. Make a General Contribution to Ocracoke through the Outer Banks Community Foundation Dorian Disaster Fund. These monies will pass through the Ocracoke Fire Department Board for distribution in the community. When making the donation, you can determine if you would like it to go to a more general fund for Hatteras and Ocracoke, or focus just on Ocracoke.
Ocracoke is a resilient community. As we work together, core spirit of the village has earned the admiration of the aid workers who have arrived on the scene. Thank you for your support in helping us heal. We look forward to having you back here when the dust settles.
|Lou Castro & Marcy Brenner of Coyote, and Gary Mitchell and Fiddler Dave of Molasses Creek play for the squaredance. Photo by Casey Robertson|