RALEIGH, N.C. -- Nearly a month after Hurricane Sandy brushed it, the Outer Banks was still digging out and the mess has some on the barrier islands hoping that this is the time for officials to get serious about rebuilding the beaches.
The storm flattened protective dunes along segments of 70-mile-long Hatteras Island. A pair of nor'easters that followed kept waves lapping between the stilts that hold up homes. About a dozen were condemned and uninhabitable.
The only road on or off the island was impassible during the hours of high tide as the ocean rolled over the beach onto N.C. Highway 12 a few hundred yards away. The surf left a mirror image of itself in asphalt in one section of roadway, freezing the blacktop in a series of peaks and troughs.
Thanks to an emergency ferry route, the island's 4,500 year-round residents have been supplied with food, medications and rebuilding equipment since Sandy blew through the last weekend in October. But spots on the ships are limited, forcing island residents to fear that leaving for medical appointments could mean an hours-long wait returning home. Tourists waited in lines for hours to board ferries ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
"It's changed life for everybody that lives there," said Susan Flythe, general manager of Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, which delivers power to all of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
The shutdowns and work-arounds come a year after Hurricane Irene sliced a new channel through the island, connecting the Atlantic to the sound on the island's western side. The inlet shut off road access for six weeks until crews completed a steel bridge one-eighth of a mile long.
With calm conditions returning late last week after the second nor'easter -- each packing winds of 30 mph or more for nearly a week -- the state Department of Transportation is sizing up repair options. They include a temporary bridge over the wavy roadway or a 2.5-mile bridge hovering over the Pamlico Sound.
It also includes the contentious possibility of deploying dredges to claw up offshore sand and pump it onto the gaps in protective sand dunes, DOT technical services director Victor Barbour said Monday. DOT knows locals fear that without the protective barriers, damage to the highway and other property could multiply through the winter.
"We're going to do all we can to get the [traffic] access as quickly as possible back," Barbour said. "It's been a bad season so far and we're entering probably the peak of the nor'easter season, so we're going to do all we can."