Stores, restaurants prep for tourist return to NC islands


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Businesses on two North Carolina islands geared up for the return Friday of tourists after a weeklong power outage that struck at the height of summer tourism season.

Visitors were allowed to return to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands at noon. Power was restored Thursday to all parts of the islands. Workers building a new bridge between islands drove a steel casing into underground transmission lines, cutting off power to the islands a week ago.

An estimated 50,000 tourists were ordered to leave during a make-or-break period for seasonal businesses, many of which close during the cold-weather months.

"I went fishing this morning and caught some and cut it and put in the bar anticipating customers coming in," said Buxton Seafood owner Nicholas Wolosuk.

He said he also made a special drive off Hatteras Island to a seafood supplier to get fully stocked. He said that Friday and Saturday are crucial days when arriving visitors buy food for the week, so he's thankful that power has been fully restored. While he missed a prime week of business, he's glad the outage didn't last longer.

"It's a relief. I know these boys with the power companies, they have been rolling to get it all get done," he said. "I tell you, I'm just thankful to them and everybody else behind the scenes that made this work."

To the south on Ocracoke Island, the kitchen staff at the Back Porch restaurant was busy chopping vegetables and doing other prep work ahead of a Saturday reopening. Owner Daphne Bennink said generator power allowed them to save some high-priced meat and seafood, but they lost other food and had to order all new fresh produce.

"I've got a staff of about five people who are going to be putting in two full shifts today and tomorrow to be ready for tomorrow's dinner service, in my case, where everything is prepared fresh from scratch," said Bennink, who employs 34 total at the restaurant and a cafe that serves lunch.

She said her staff also did a deep clean of the kitchen and tried to stay ready because of the uncertain timeframe for reopening.

"While we're used to having an evacuation, there's almost always a weather event that sort of gives us a tangible, visible timeline," she said. But because of the uncertainty about the outage, she said: "We've been perched, sort of ready."

Utility crews worked to evaluate the damage and ultimately decided to erect new overhead cables to connect the island power grids to transmission lines that run along the bridge. In the days after the outage started, officials estimated it could take weeks for power to be restored.

Many visitors scheduled to arrive this weekend spent the past week watching closely as updates from Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative narrowed that timeframe. The finally got a definitive answer Thursday afternoon.

Maryland resident Colleen Sax is heading to a rental house on Hatteras Island with her husband and two adult daughters, while other extended family is staying nearby.

"By Wednesday evening you were feeling optimistic; Thursday you were feeling much more hopeful," said Sax, who plans to start the eight-hour drive early Saturday morning. "I was really surprised when I found out it will be (reopened) today at noon."


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