900 miles South of Vermont: Hatteras

Video: Report from Hatteras Island | CharlotteObserver.com & The Charlotte Observer Newspaper.

Like many other kids who grew up in eastern North Carolina, I was fascinated by the mysteries of the Outer Banks.  I loved Manteo and Roanoke Island with its story of The Lost Colony and Virginia Dare, the first child born in America (8/18/1587) to English parents.  I dreamed of solving the strange mystery of their disappearance, with the only clue left behind: the word CROATAN carved on a tree.

Across the bridge from the mainland are the spiny islands known as The Outer Banks. Southward is Hatteras, where the cold waters of the Labrador Currents collide with the warm waters from the Caribbean… where shallow sandbars of Diamond Shoals trick sailors miles out into the ocean, one of the deadliest points along the Graveyard of the Atlantic.  There are tales of pirate treasures beneath the sea and buried on the islands.  Cape Hatteras is the elbow bend of the long, skinny island strip where the tallest, most recognizable lighthouse in America stands.

Hatteras and beyond were accessible only by ferry when I was a child. The Pamlico Sound separates it from the mainland by miles and the island itself is over 40 miles long.  (Manhattan, by comparison, is less than 15.)  The small fishing villages along the Outer Banks were so isolated that traces of the Old English brogue of 16th century ancestors are still recognizable among the older residents.

Sometimes after hurricanes, my mother would take us there to look for shells on the empty beaches.  Everything changed in 1963, when the Herbert C. Bonner bridge was built.  Developers descended like locusts.  The island was soon pocked with clusters of vacation houses between the fishing villages, an irreverent sight to those who considered the stark wilderness a national treasure.

Since I am bridge-phobic, if there is such a term, I found the Bonner bridge terrifying, but fascinating.  During a 1990 hurricane, a dredge broke loose and hit the bridge, knocking out a wide chunk of the span, and electricity and phone service to the island, too.  Watch this old report to get an idea of the immensity of the bridge.  It’s file footage from before the 1990 accident–look how small the cars are.  The bridge survived Irene.

Here’s another video from 20 years later if you want to see what it looks like to ride across the bridge.  Before you jump in, though, here are a few facts about the bridge.  It was built to have a lifespan of 30 years–  now in its 17th year of borrowed time.

In 2006, a bridge inspection report from NCDOT rated the condition of the bridge and, with one being the lowest and 100 the highest and best, the bridge was rated a 2.  The state spent millions to raise that to a 4.  NCDOT says that doesn’t mean that it’s unsound, but that it doesn’t meet current standards.

Traffic on an average day is 5,000 vehicles and includes school buses.  During tourist season that number can easily double.  Grass roots efforts of groups like Replacethebridgenow.com and Bridgemoms pushed hard and contracts have been awarded to begin construction on a new bridge in January.  There will be a webcam to watch construction progress.

Although I watched hours of coverage on Hurricane Irene, I saw little about Hatteras, so I was surprised when I saw the video at the beginning of this post. The bridge survived, but the highway did not. The Hatteras residents are without power or phone service and have little water.  Supplies are being delivered, but it’s a slow process since it must be done by ferry– two hours each way.  The ferry service is also taking any people who wish to leave over to the mainland.

Their situation is similar to the needs of Vermont’s flooded areas, where supplies are being airlifted in.  Both areas will have a long, slow recovery.  So much devastation, nearly 900 miles apart.

I was surprised to hear the news pundits wondering if the hurricane was over-hyped.  Lady Gaga is over-hyped.  The Super Bowl is over-hyped.  Although I think it’s a bit ridiculous to have reporters blowing around outside and wish they come inside so that we can understand what they’re saying, I want to know about hurricanes and tornadoes.

Nature is amazing.  Dearly Beloved sent this photo of the calm sea the day after the hurricane.

BroJoe, who never left Nags Head, sustained no damage. I swear, I think he holes up in one of Dick Cheney’s secret bunkers.  As always, he was on the beach the next day to photograph the sunrise.

Nags Head.


11 thoughts on “900 miles South of Vermont: Hatteras

  1. Wow. Amazing photos. Thanks for the history lesson! I’d read that the bridge was rated a 2 and just shook my head at how this country can ignore our infrastructure (and schools) when gazillionaires like Warren Buffet say they pay less in taxes than their secretaries.

    As for the people who say the hurricane was over-hyped, I would answer : do you have to die in a storm to make it worth your while to stock up on batteries and bottled water? Sheesh.

  2. My dear Hatteras. We would go in winter so we could experience it in its least commercial state. I always felt special to come from a state that was home to Hatteras.

    I’m bridge phobic, too! Well, bridge-tunnel phobic, certainly, which made our years in Tidewater Virginia dicey. I still have to fight down the panic when I drive over the new and improved bridge to Charleston, SC.

    One of our favorite spots in the late sixties and early seventies was a small hunting lodge owned by a friend on Knott’s Island, the northernmost in the chain. Curtis Fentress, who owned a farm at land’s end and whose sister owned the hunting lodge, pronounced his v’s as w’s–“wegetables”. He was a charming old widower whom we met on a bus trip to Expo ’67. My parents adopted him and he became our companion for the trip. Thereafter, we maintained that relationship with visits to the island, and I have a marvelous picture of him, top of his bald head pale above his farmer’s tan, shaking my hand in the reception line at my wedding.

    I hope his children and their children fared well. Thank you for this lovely post and thank BroJoe, as always, for his extraordinary photography.

  3. Last photo is a stunner.
    I always have regretted how human advancement (building bridges to connect isolated places) ruins lovely spots. By ruins, of course, I am presuming that development is not an improvement. Harsh opinion, isn’t it.

  4. Sharon Kauerz

    I looked at many pictures of Irene on NYT slideshow. Not all were meant to be pretty. Many were not pretty. BUT, none of them were as fantastic as BroJoe’s photo. Glad he is still taking pictures.
    Irene is still wreaking havoc in Vermont…totally landlocked!

    Also glad DB survived the slumber party!

  5. Amen! When I was a child our family vacationed at Nags Head every summer and the Outer Banks area is dear to my heart. Like you, I have been surprised at the devastating images I have seen and cannot believe the meda reporting it wasn’t as bad as they thought.

  6. Add me to the bridge phobic list.
    Why can’t we all be thankful that Irene wasn’t as bad as predicted? Bad is bad enough. And better to be safe than sorry.

  7. I fear we have become disaster blase. Unless we are left with a denuded landscape, it is an over hyped event. Those who are left with out power, water and access to flooded homes might disagree. I always feel for those who have to deal with the aftermath which is seldom covered by the media.
    The Sunshine Skyway in Florida is a white knuckle event for me. Some bridges do make me sweat also.
    Awesome beach shots.

  8. I have one phobia…bridges and I was born with it. I would like the coverage better if the news people would just cover the news and stop already with the speculations. The weatherman can speculate the reporters should report.
    The sunrise is so pretty.

  9. Wow, go bridge!! I have been looking at photos of the Vermont devastation, so I can imagine Hatteras. 😦 I was watching some of the TV coverage when I was in Maryland during the storm and wondered about that. You can’t downplay the hurricane, because it’s better that people be over-prepared than under-prepared. At the same time, I wonder if the media couldn’t find another way to get across their messages. I think Katybeth has it right; tone down the speculation and focus more on the weather facts. And I was seriously worried about one of those beachfront reporters blowing away! I suppose I would like to see the media get across the seriousness of a coming storm without completely terrifying everyone.

    Arkansas Patti has a point too. Once the storm is over, nobody is focusing on those suffering in the aftermath. Business as usual for everyone but those who lost their homes or suffered damage or are just without power for days or weeks on end. 😦

    My thoughts are with everyone affected. We had a force 2 hurricane pass right over our house in Nova Scotia, and it’s not something I want to experience again.

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