A massive power outage that chased thousands of vacationers from North Carolina's Outer Banks at the height of the tourist season was stretching into a fifth day Monday, and the outlook was more gloomy than a dark cloud over the picturesque beaches.
Authorities in Dare and Hyde counties ordered all vacationers off of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands after a construction company said it accidentally drove a steel casing into an underground transmission cable.
The full scope of the damage was determined Sunday, and it was bad. Tests revealed that all three transmission cables had been "compromised," Dare County officials said. Generators were providing enough power for locals, but county spokeswoman Dorothy Hester said a timeline for a fix and allowing tourists back hadn't been determined.
Residents, owners and business people are allowed to stay, but life isn't easy. Power and water restrictions are in place. Air conditioners and hot tubs must be taken off the power grid. And business isn't good.
"Some people are lingering through the weekend before evacuating, but most (visitors) have cleared out," said Justin Herrmann, a sales associate at Real Watersports on Hatteras Island. "We provide lessons, and that has slowed down quite a bit. We do a lot of online sales, but overall we're definitely losing a lot of business right now."
Hester said a year-round population of about 6,000 can swell to several times that number in the summer. That means full refrigerators and grinding air conditioners — the kind of power demand that generators can't meet.
"This right now is the height of the season, when many businesses make the income they need to sustain themselves through the fall and winter," Hester said. "Believe me, we just want to get power back to everybody as soon as we can."
Not only are vacations cut short, but some vacationers who don't have rental insurance might not get their money back. A phone recording at Outer Beaches Realty warned renters to delay arrivals until evacuation orders have been lifted — and that refunds were being issued at the determination of insurance providers.
"People should be checking with their providers, and we know that is happening," Hester said.
The news wasn't all bad. Hyde County reported that Ocracoke Island, though still evacuated of tourists, was running on generator power "with no issues." Officials warned that the occasional maintenance outages were to be expected but that the goal was to keep them brief. Ferries were getting "much needed supplies" to Ocracoke residents.
Herrmann was philosophical about the crisis.
"I'm a surfer and a kiter, and there are definitely less people in the lineups right now," he said. "Look, we live on an island, and sometimes these things happen."