CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (WAVY/WKBN) — An estimated 10,000 tourists face a noon deadline Friday for evacuating an island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks after a construction company caused a power outage, leaving people searching for a place to eat, stay cool or to resume interrupted vacations.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency Thursday for Ocracoke and Hatteras islands due to the massive outage. A mandatory evacuation for all visitors on Ocracoke Island was issued at 5 p.m. Thursday.
No one will be allowed onto the island unless they can prove residency, officials said.
“This declaration will allow us to move much-needed resources through the state as quickly as possible to help restore the power to Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands,” Cooper said.
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 a.m. Thursday, 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.”
Chris Solvesky, of Boardman, traveled to Hatteras for a family vacation. He said the outage didn’t disrupt his vacation too much, although they left a day early because of sporadic power.
Solvesky said everything south of Nag’s Head was without power for a day, but portable generators were brought in.
“The energy company did a real good job through social media, talking about what they were able to do, what they weren’t able to do. So people had a good idea that it was going to be a little bit of time without power,” he said. “Most of the stores were just trying to open up cash store fronts outside to help people with ice and whatnot.”
This outage comes during peak tourist season, which runs from mid-June through Labor Day. The area where the outage happened is filled with vacation rental homes, according to Solvesky.
“We made the most of it; just tried to have a good time without power,” Solvesky said. “I brought a bunch of lanterns and flashlights so we could go out on the beach at night.”
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.
CHEC said it is working to assess the extent of the damage and plan for the repair. Spokeswoman Laura Ertle said Roanoke, Virginia-based New River Electrical Corp., which erected the cable on the original Bonner Bridge in 1995, is coming to the coast to dig up the cable to assess the damage.
Repairs could take days to weeks, depending on the extent of the damage and the materials needed to fix the issue.
As of Friday morning, officials said about 9,000 customers are without power on the two islands — about 7,700 on Hatteras and another 1,300 on Ocracoke.
Erica Plouffe Lazure was visiting Ocracoke from Exeter, New Hampshire, with a friend, but had to cut her trip short and head north to Elizabeth City. She said two restaurants on Ocracoke are using generators to stay open, but the motel she booked for her stay closed after its generator exploded minutes after it was started.
“There’s a lot of hot, sweaty people here,” Lazure said, adding that she tried to book a motel further up the North Carolina coast, only to find they were either sold out or asking as much as $500 a night.
“This is a beautiful island and I waited two years to come back here because it’s one of my favorite places in the world,” she said. “I’m a little bummed that the power has gotten in the way, but, ’til next time.”
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.