by Eric J. Wallace
American Reporter Correspondent
Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
November 25, 2009
ONCE DISMISSED, 'ATLANTIC ASSAULT' TOOK A HEAVY TOLL
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. -- Driving down Hwy. 12 - the beach road here - sand and debris were heaped in tall piles along both shoulders. In many places deep standing water forced the traffic to a near halt. It was the unexpected aftermath of a Nov. 18 "no-name" storm with hurricane-like winds that many storm-weary locals had dismissed as just another breeze.
In Kitty Hawk, large sections of the road were blocked off, so as to allow the backhoes and bulldozers room to work at clearing the sand. A popular restaurant sat partially submerged in what looked like a large pond. Oceanside, an army of men in Bobcats were digging out the many buried driveways. Looking out past the houses, you could see the ocean. Just two days prior, the view was obscured by high grey dunes.
Heading south, for a while there were only the occasional puddles, flooded ditches and yards, maybe a pile of sea-reeds here and there. Then, and the change was very sudden, everywhere there was the debris, the swept piles of sand, even large chunks of broken asphalt. Looking down the side-streets that led to the various private accesses, the damage was blatant.
I turned into a wrecked lane and followed the trail of devastation towards its nexus. The sand was so deep I couldn't tell if the road was paved. Misplaced sand, torn shrubs and trees at first, and a little further in, heaped picnic tables, trash-cans, pipes, lawn-chairs, vinyl siding and lumber and all the miscellaneous wreckage lay strewn in erratic twisted heaps.
The road was only three blocks long. I stopped about fifty yards from the end, being afraid the tires would sink in the wet sand. Standing at the broken cliff I met an abrupt drop of at least eight feet.
Below me, giant severed chunks of asphalt lay like a child's toys carelessly tossed. The final two houses on the road looked frail and unprotected as the receding surf lapped at their exposed pylons. They were completely dug out with all the surrounding sand blasted away, taking with it many sets of stairs that once climbed to the vaulted decks and entries.
The surf was still very high, but not like the prior Friday night. Never mind the solid white crests, the churned dark water, the leaping frothy spray - by contrast, this was calm. The water was deceptively docile in its flow beneath the pylons, splashing the cement casings of the newly exposed six-foot septic tanks.
On the beach, most of the dunes - if any -` were split at the crest as by some great excavating tool. A line of houses in either direction were completely cut off from land. Nearly all of the raised wooden walkways over the dunes were damaged. Often the entire staircase was gone, or some portion had collapsed, and in others nothing remained but their big square stairposts protruding from the sand.
Walking north, the tide forced me beneath a house, and looking up I realized I was standing beneath what had been a garage.
I took a few steps back and there was the door, hanging a good 12 to 14 feet above the sand. The floor was gone,and drop chords and various tools still dangled from hooks along the walls.
Further along was a first story room with no floor and only two and a half walls. The blinds, wallpaper and a few pictures hung high were in perfect order; the image was haunting and for a moment I became unreasonably ill at ease. Shaking myself as I hurried away, I noticed the bed, toilet, and various other furniture laying in the sand some twenty feet behind the house. Looking back I saw a washer dangling from a hose 10 feet above the sand.
About a quarter-mile down the beach I came upon the remnants of a house collapsed into the surf like crumpled cardboard box. I watched the water wash steadily over the wreckage, carrying its former life bit by bit out to sea.
Back on the highway, I tried to go south to Hatteras Island, hoping to see Rodanthe, where the island is very thin and dunes are mostly nonexistent, but Hwy. 12 sustained such heavy damage it was closed at the Oregon Inlet bridge.
When I checked the Dare County website at midday Friday the 13th, a state of emergency was declared. On the 14th, the North Carolina DOT was clearing the roads.
Hwy. 12 reopened on the 16th, and by the 17th was open for four-wheel drive vehicles only. Up to that point residents of Hatteras and Ocracoke were completely cut off from the main island, forcing officials to commission a special ferry to run once a day, bringing folks to the mainland via Swan Quarter.
Days later, a single lane of Hwy. 12 was finally reopened but by today, the road still isn't completely cleared and repaired.
While I haven't made the trip yet, based on the damage in South Nags Head, I'm sure there's still plenty more damage to see, unfortunately. Where once we yawned at the dangerous storm approaching, now we gape in awe at the aftermath.