Soundside flooding described as worst in decades

By on August 27, 2011

Historic courthouse, now the Dare County Arts Council, in downtown Manteo. (Kermit Skinner)

Large and lumbering Hurricane Irene pummeled the Outer Banks for almost 24 hours and delivered a parting shot Saturday with severe soundside flooding from Hatteras Village to Duck.

Many longtime residents and officials said the flooding was unlike any they had ever seen. Re-entry to the Outer Banks was not being allowed Sunday morning.

As the center of the hurricane moved away, its backside pushed water west and into the barrier islands. Earlier Saturday, the sounds were virtually emptied by southeast winds along the Outer Banks.

Water was waist-deep in parts of downtown Manteo and was running into the first floors of businesses. The sound tide ran all the way to U.S. 64.

“I’ve been in Dare County for 30 years and with the Town of Manteo for 23 and I’ve never seen anything remotely close to this,” Town Manager Kermit Skinner said in an e-mail.

Dare County Emergency Management reported the Nags Head-Manteo causeway and parts of U.S. 158 in Nags Head were covered. Water on N.C. 12 in Duck near the Sanderling and Sunset Grille was up to 3 feet deep. West Kitty Hawk Road was expected to be under water and Colington Road was impassable.

Soundwater flooded the first floor of the Colington Volunteer Fire Department.

Flooding also was reported on Bay Drive, which runs along the sound side of Kill Devil Hills.

Canal in Colington Harbour. (Kearns and Rhonda Lowman)

Canal in Colington Harbour. (Kearns and Rhonda Lowman)

Sunday morning, a curfew was in effect in Duck, where flood waters may have undermined N.C. 12 near the Sunset Grille. Access to the Currituck Outer Banks is blocked.

Currituck County also saw significant soundside flooding.

“Several reports of water into homes were fielded by 911 during the night,” the county said in a statement.

There appeared to be no significant damage along the oceanfront in the northern Outer Banks.

Officials said more re-entry information would be available later Sunday after damage assessments are completed.

Irene made its way across the Outer Banks Saturday with a top wind gust of 88 mph at Mitchell Field on Hatteras Island. Throughout the northern Outer Banks, sustained winds were 45 to 50 mph with gusts over 60 mph.

It appeared that mainland counties to the south and west were taking more of a beating than the Outer Banks, but that changed when the wind shifted and sent sound water back toward the barrier islands.

Island Free Press Editor Irene Nolan said that 3 to 4 feet of water was reported in Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo and Avon.

Water was also rising in Buxton and Hatteras Village.

“At my house in Brigands Bay, there’s water as far as I can see,” she said.

Nolan said that when Category 3 Hurricane Emily passed just offshore in 1993, the backwash from the sound left 5 feet of water under her house.

The state Department of Transportation reported that N.C. 12 south of Oregon Inlet was closed because of sand and water on the road. Debris was blocking U.S. 64 east of Columbia, where a tornado was reported and water was in some buildings.

Old Nags Head Cove. (Fred Ferrell)

Overwash caused some flooding in Swan Quarter, Hyde County, but the dike held up, according to emergency management. Power is out throughout the county.

Emergency officials reported that a possible tornado damaged six houses and may have destroyed two in Columbia, Tyrrell County, the weather service said. Minor injuries were reported.

Hurricane Irene crossed the North Carolina coast Saturday morning near Cape Lookout with 90 mph top winds.

At noon, the National Weather Service reported, sustained winds were 49 mph at Mitchell Field in Frisco with gusts up to 66 mph. Winds in Manteo were reported at 33 mph with 58 mph gusts. The buoy at Oregon Inlet recorded a gust of 62 knots, or about 71 mph, shortly after 3:30 p.m.

Wind buffets the Manteo waterfront. (John Turner)

Maximum sustained winds that are used to categorize hurricanes generally are in a small area of a storm. With Irene, a majority of the wind field was in the tropical storm range.

Wind gusts of more than 90 mph and over 7 inches of rain were reported in southeastern North Carolina.

Dare County officials urged sightseers to stay inside. Duck and Kill Devil Hills imposed curfews to keep people off the streets.

Residents and visitors were told to evacuate Dare, Currituck and Hyde counties before the storm’s arrival. But many residents elected to stay.

Askins Creek BP in Avon. (Submitted photo)

North Carolina transportation officials say they were prepared for any damage to N.C. 12 on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands as well as the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet.

DOT spokeswoman Nicole Meister said Wednesday that workers were positioning heavy equipment on Hatteras Island to keep the road open as long as it is safe for crews to work. Immediately after the storm, workers will inspect the aging Bonner Bridge. Meister says the bridge will not be opened unless engineers are sure it is safe.

Sentiments on the windows of Carolina Seafood Buffet. (Russ Lay)

Hatteras Island facing Pamlico Sound. (Shiralee Timmons)

Ferries will be standing by to handle vehicle traffic if the road remains closed following the hurricane, using the emergency route over Pamlico Sound between Rodanthe and Stumpy Point.

Schools were closed Thursday and Friday.

Makeup days for Dare County schools will be Sept.10, and Wednesday, Nov. 23. Both will be half days. All after-school activities are cancelled Thursday and Friday, including the After-School Enrichment Program.

Irene, which started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa, is the ninth named storm of the season and the first Atlantic hurricane of 2011.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose has formed near Bermuda and is expected to stay out in the Atlantic.

Sam Walker and Russ Lay contributed to this report





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