The Sun News

Power outage hits US city, may keep tourists out for two weeks

Cheri Crossley and her husband loaded up the car with luggage, extra batteries, flashlights and their two children before setting off on a 15-hour drive from their home in Bridgeport, Conn., to North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Crossley, a math teacher, and her husband had been saving for the vacation since January and had spent $4,000 to rent a five-bedroom house with a pool on Hatteras Island, a popular summer retreat. They’d been warned about a power outage in the Outer Banks on Friday as they departed, but it wasn’t until Saturday morning, when they were nearly halfway there, that they found out their rental had been canceled. The island was under mandatory evacuation orders.

“We’d been thinking about this for six months, the kids were so excited,” Crossley said. “We are heartbroken.”

She is one of tens of thousands of people who were forced to cancel their Outer Banks vacations at the height of the season after a construction accident caused a widespread power outage. An estimated 50,000 people were evacuated from Hatteras Island and another 10,000 from neighboring Ocracoke, leaving such tourist hot spots as Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras nearly desolate.

“June to August represents about 70 percent of our annual business, so you can imagine that taking out a week or two could be devastating,” said Lee Nettles, executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “Hatteras Island alone is about a quarter of our tourism economy annually, so it’s having an extraordinary impact on us.”

Most islanders found out about the power outage Thursday morning when they couldn’t switch their lights on. They soon discovered that construction crews working on the Bonner Bridge had accidentally driven a steel casing into an underground power cable, cutting it completely, according to a statement from Dare County, where Hatteras is located. The 2.7-mile bridge is part of Route 12, a two-lane road that runs from Corolla in the north down to Ocracoke in the south and then to the mainland. Part of the route is by ferry, the only way to reach Ocracoke by car.

“With the amount of people on the island in the middle of summer, the load was too high for the generating system to provide continuous power for air conditioning and pools,” said Laura Erdal, spokeswoman for the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, which provides power to Hatteras Island. “It boiled down to a safety issue, so Dare County had to call the evacuation.”

The cable breakage cable occurred during efforts to replace Bonner Bridge, a nearly $250 million project slated for completion in 2019. PCL, the construction company working on the bridge, said in a statement Sunday that it is “making the necessary repairs quickly and safely.”

Erdal said one underwater cable was cut and two were damaged, and the timeline for a complete repair is between one and two weeks. Crews are working on two solutions simultaneously: splicing the underwater cables together and building a new overwater transmission line to bypass the submerged cables.

The mandatory evacuation will remain in place until mainline power is back on, affecting travelers and local businesses this week and perhaps next — and leaving some in a dire situation at the height of the region’s most lucrative season. Most tourists evacuated Saturday.

“It’s been devastating, to say the least. We lost probably $50,000 from just that one weekend alone,” said Caleb Lewis of the Frisco Woods Campground on the Cape Hatteras seashore. Lewis, whose family has owned the campground for three generations, said the last weekend of July is usually one of the top-grossing weekends of the season for his family. “It’s completely empty right now, so they had to lay off half the staff. We are losing money day by day.” (TheWashingtonPost)

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