© August 31, 2011
A line of cars stretched for miles across the Wright Memorial
Bridge early Tuesday as tourists rushed to salvage what was left of
their Outer Banks vacation plans after Hurricane Irene socked the
The congestion was a welcome sight to restaurant owners, hoteliers
and rental property managers from Southern Shores to Nags Head.
"Those cars are a real good sign," said Cherie Harris, manager of
The Dunes seafood restaurant in Nags Head. "That's how we all
Tourism officials from Virginia Beach south to North Carolina's
Dare County are working to spread the word ahead of the typically
busy Labor Day weekend: We're open for business.
Tourists have been calling Virginia Beach officials.
"They're asking things like, 'Is the Beach open? Should we still
come? Is the power on?' " said Pam Lingle, spokeswoman for the
Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A banner announcement on the city's website says: "All of our
resort hotels, restaurants and attractions are open, our beaches
are beautiful and the sea is sparkling."
Conditions are dicier along the Outer Banks, which was hit
particularly hard by hurricane-force winds and tidal flooding. Lee
Nettles, director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said
undeterred tourists returned in droves Tuesday as beaches north of
Hatteras Island reopened to the public.
"That's a good sign," Nettles said. "Fortunately, we have a loyal
and determined visitor base."
The scene was grimmer south of Pea Island, where Irene shredded
N.C. 12, the coastal roadway connecting Hatteras Island with the
"We can't afford to be cut off," said Frank Lihvarchik, co-owner of
Rocco's Pizza in Hatteras Village.
Lihvarchik said Rocco's - one of the few businesses on the island
with power and a working phone line on Tuesday - will lose about
$5,000 every day the road is closed. He and others say they hope
state officials open a temporary ferry to shuttle visitors onto the
island. "There aren't enough locals here to sustain a business of
this size," Lihvarchik said.
The last hurricane to cut off passage across the island was Isabel
in 2003. That breach, just south of Frisco, isolated only the towns
of Hatteras and Ocracoke, which relies on the ferry from Hatteras.
It took almost two months and $5 million to repair the road. Gov.
Beverly Perdue said Tuesday the state will release a short-term
plan in the coming days to get traffic flowing on N.C. 12 within a
Ferry service between Cedar Island and Ocracoke Island and from
Swan Quarter to Ocracoke resumed Tuesday, but for Ocracoke
residents and emergency personnel only.
North of Hatteras, retailers hustled to clear debris and stock
shelves. At Sugar Creek Seafood Restaurant, staff worked to restock
the seafood after all their freezers were damaged behind repair in
the storm. The soundside restaurant is one of several in the Nags
Head area that took on heavy floodwaters. Managers hoped to reopen
by the weekend.
"Everyone's getting ready," The Dunes' Harris said. "The crowds are
Kristi Gonzales and her family drove overnight from their home in
Bellmawr, N.J., and then waited more than two hours to cross
Currituck Sound on their way to a beach house in Corolla.
"This is our only vacation this year, and we were determined to
have it," Gonzales said. "Now we are going to make the best of
John Harris, owner of Kitty Hawk Kites, hopes more tourists share
that attitude. Harris operates 15 locations throughout the Outer
Banks. Four of them are south of the break in N.C. 12, and one
location flooded, he said. But the other 10 shops were open
"It doesn't matter if we're open if people don't come," Harris
said. "The beaches, of course, are as beautiful as ever, and so I'm
hopeful tourists will keep coming through the remainder of the
Most visitors to the Outer Banks rent beach homes by the week, said
Ali Breaux, president of Sun Realty, which manages about 1,200 such
properties. About 1,000 of the homes managed by her company remain
accessible, Breaux said, and "they've already started filling
Hatteras Island is a different story, she said. Most people who
booked vacation homes there for this week bought insurance and will
be refunded, Breaux said. Many of those who didn't buy insurance -
including those who had booked rentals through September and into
October - have called asking for refunds.
That decision is up to the property owner, Breaux said. "There's no
obligation to refund their money."
Pilot writer Aaron Applegate and The Associated Press contributed
to this report.
Mike Hixenbaugh, (757) 222-5117,
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