CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (WAVY/AP/WNCT) — 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.
Officials, concerned about people’s safety, ordered a mandatory evacuation for an estimated 10,000 visitors on Ocracoke Island by noon Friday, and Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency for Ocracoke and Hatteras islands. No one will be allowed onto the island unless they can prove residency, officials said.
“We slept in a parking lot last night in a camp last night so we could get on this 7 o’clock ferry this morning,” said Zach Futrell, a vacationer on the island.
For residents trying to back to the island, it’s havoc trying to get supplies to their families.
“I’m trying to get home to hook up a generator to my house so I can get power to my freezer and my refrigerator, so I don’t lose all my groceries,” said Charles O’Neal, an Ocracoke Island resident.
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 cutting off 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.”
Crews with PCL are working to excavate the site of the damaged cables so they can assess the damage.
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.
Repairs could take days to weeks, depending on the extent of the damage and the materials needed to fix the issue.
Meanwhile, generators are being brought to the area.
CHEC spokesperson Laura Ertle says nine portable generators were brought to Hatteras from different areas of the East Coast.
Once the generators are online, CHEC will begin rolling blackouts. The cooperative says this will only be possible if residents TURN OFF their air conditioning and minimize other electrical usages to conserve energy.
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.
A Tideland EMC spokesperson said the generators will allow all power to Ocracoke Island to be restored in an emergency manner by midnight.
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.
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.
The Frisco Campground is closed through Friday and the Ocracoke Campground will be closed until the county’s evacuation order is lifted.
Ann Warner, the owner of Howard’s Pub on Ocracoke Island, said many visitors didn’t realize the outage was so widespread.
“I think many of them went to the beach,” said Warner. “It’s an absolutely spectacular day, gorgeous day. It’s like a dream beach day for people. So my guess is that many of them went to the beach thinking, okay when we get back the power will be on. So, I think at this point really is setting in. What do we do now? We’ve got to leave.”
Warner said with no set fix in sight, her concern now turns toward business.
“Not only the business for us, but every business on Ocracoke Island will suffer financially,” Warner said. “This is July. This is the peak of our season. The island’s at capacity. This is what we gear up for the whole year.”
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 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.