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Topsail Beach, N.C. — After Hurricane Florence, is North Carolina’s coast ready?
Eight months after Florence, crews are working seven days a week trying to get all of the repairs done.
Buddy’s Crabhouse & Oyster Bar in Surf City is open while repairs are underway outside.
“I’m seeing more damage on the oceanside,” Ed Gaffney said.
Gaffney, who lives in New York, has visited North Topsail Beach for years. This month, he was able to visit the island after Florence for the first time.
“It caught me a little by surprise,” he said.
Lots of homes took a beating all along Topsail Island.
Heading north to Emerald Isle, homes still need work, and on Indian Beach, plywood still covers windows at Grand Villas Condos.
Yet with all the damage, there are can’t miss signs of progress.
On Topsail Island, storage containers are a plenty, filled with both belongings and supplies tied to the rebuilding of beach properties.
Area leaders said they are confident the projects, for the most part, and the containers, will be gone by the start of the summer season.
In Atlantic Beach, parking lots were filled with construction supplies. The Atlantic Beach Doubletree Hotel is not expected to reopen until September.
“We certainly saw our share of damage,” said Jim Browder, executive director of the Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority.
“We have bounced back pretty quickly,” he said. “We certainly have a ways to go.”
Browder said most restaurants and shops are open.
“I do anticipate that we are going to be a little bit short on inventory, but I don’t think it will be a huge amount,” he said.
Part of the delay involves construction crews. There just aren’t enough. Many have come from other states.
One project manager in Topsail said he arrived from Oregon in October and plans to stay until at least July. He drives an hour each way from Wrightsville Beach, saying there was no where to stay on Topsail.
Topsail resident Ray Raney said parking is also a concern.
“Parking seems to be a premium,” Raney said. “There’s places they used to be able to park, they can’t park anymore.”
Sara Orton, of Cary, found out while visiting the island that some beach access lots and amenities remain in serious disrepair.
“Showers, changing rooms, things like that,” Orton said. “And all those gazebos and covers are all gone.”
“When you look, you see all of the things that are under construction,” said Cathy Medlin, owner of Island Real Estate in Surf City.
“What you don’t see are all of the things that have already been finished and fixed.”
Medlin says many visitors will benefit from a Florence-forced bonus: renovation.
“Everybody’s got new carpet and new paint, so it’s gorgeous,” she said.
And because of those renovations, some homes are renting for the first time to recoup some repair costs.
The Inn at Pine Knoll Shores, which was renovated just a year and a half ago, is now getting a floor by floor redo.
“New mattresses, new furniture, new appliances,” said General Manager Kristie Goodwin. “Everything just had to be done in every room.”
When 5 On Your Side visited, the top three floors were still being worked on. Even the Inn’s restaurant, bar and pool are being renovated.
“I knew there was a lot of damage, but seeing it with your own eyes is something really different,” said Cheryl Poyner, who was visiting from Garner.
“It’s sad to see the damage that was done,” Poyner added. “But it’s also great to see people rally around and come back.”
“I’ve had a few owners who’ve contacted me and they said well, ‘We hear there’s a shortage of houses, maybe we should raise our rent,’” Medlin said. “But then I’ve had owners who have contacted me and they’re saying, ‘Well, we’re just worried people don’t want to go to Topsail because they’re worried about the hurricane.’ I think they’re off setting each other, so I really don’t see a difference.”
There’s definitely no difference in the sound of the ocean and the feel of the sun and sand. So grab your chair and cooler, plenty is ready at the North Carolina coast.