HURRICANE FLORENCE: Oak Island bouncing back after storm

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Brunswick County beach town’s piers, dunes seemed to ride out the storm with only minor damage and erosion

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — These days Oak Island isn’t operating as it might on a usual weekday, but it isn’t far from a return to complete normalcy, according to public information officer Kyle Thomas.

“We had some minor flooding, and we had some trees down,” he said Tuesday. “We are still in cleanup mode, and we will be in cleanup mode for quite some time just for the debris that has to be picked up. But we fared very well considering other locations.”

Florence at landfall never materialized into the predicted Category 3 or even Category 4 storm that many meteorologists feared before coming ashore a bit farther up the coast, near Wrightsville Beach, and the prevailing winds at Oak Island were in the 70-80 mph range — not what would have been forthcoming in a stronger storm. Still, Thomas said, when houses and businesses suffered damage it was more from wind than water.

That said, some lawns and lower-lying areas remain covered by standing water.

There was not a significant storm surge on the south-facing beach, Thomas noted, and the dunes, which were largely repaired after Hurricane Matthew earlier this year, stood up very well, offering protection to the homes closest to the ocean.

The two piers, including one arising to replace a structure lost to Hurricane Matthew, also held up stoutly.

“We did not have substantial damage to either,” Thomas said. “We are nevertheless going through with some engineers and evaluating what is out there, but everything seems to be fine.”

There was some relatively minor road flooding, and some roads remain impassable even 10 days or so post-Florence, though getting around the island and the mainland side of town does not constitute a serious problem, Thomas said.

Roads in and out of Oak Island were “a challenge” during the evacuation and post-storm return, Thomas said, with most full-time residents opting to leave as Florence approached, heeding the warnings and advice of national and local weather services.

“I left, and I have lived here for 25 years and had never left before,” Thomas said, though his departure was more a result of family concerns than worries for his personal safety.

Town Manager David Kelly did not leave during the storm and spent about a week sleeping in his office, Thomas said. The public information officer identified Kelly’s efforts and an efficient communications system with helping save lives and property during the storm.

Florence inflicted only minor problems with the sewer and water systems, Thomas said, with a lingering problem in one small area of the town. He also noted that despite the huge number of statewide repair projects facing the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT), the renovation of the Barbee Bridge remains on schedule, with work — and bridge closing — slated to begin in mid-October.

Weathering the storm

Sharon and Will Long rode out the storm on the mainland side within a stone’s throw of that bridge. The storm wasn’t that bad, said Will Long, an engineer with Duke Energy at its nuclear plant in nearby Southport, but it had lessons to teach. Store more food than you think you will need, for a start, he said. Be patient in the days after the storm passes for a second, he added.

“If we didn’t have some stored up, we pretty much would have been out of food,” Will Long said. “The takeaway is that you have to stock up more than you think, especially the non-perishables, because the power is probably going to go out for some period of time.”

Be patient because it is going to be challenging getting around. For businesses, including Duke Energy, the takeaway is that “there were a lot of employees who couldn’t be relieved because the people who were meant to do so couldn’t get here,” Will Long said.

The Longs lost power — and water — for just 27 hours, he said, “and there was a lot of localized tree and water damage, especially on the island.”

His boat in the St. James Plantation marina survived with barely a scratch, though getting there to check on “Long Weekend” was a bit of a problem. Will Long said he did hear of a boat sinking at Southport, and some rainwater damage to other vessels at a dry dock there.

“There are a lot of trees down over there,” he said of St. James.

But once they are cleaned up, the storm’s visit will not be that apparent, he added.

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