OBX Power Outage Enters Fifth Day

Construction crews have determined that all three transmission cables providing power to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands have been compromised, but portable generators may allow visitors to return soon. 

The latest on the blackouts and evacuations on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands (all times local):

5:45 p.m. Sunday

At the end of the fourth day without main electric power, crews still have not announced a timetable for repairs to the three main lines cut by a construction company. More portable generators are en route to Hatteras, in the hopes that visitors may return soon. No timetable has been given for that possibility, either.

Gov. Roy Cooper - who asked on Saturday for "faster repairs" - is planning to visit the site south of the Bonner Bridge on Monday. He also plans to meet with businesses who are affected by the blackout and evacuations.

9:00 a.m. Sunday

According to Tidelands EMC and Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, diagnostic tests run overnight have revealed that all three transmission lines have been "compromised." One of the lines was missing a two-foot section; the extent of damage to the other two has not been released.

Additional resources are being called in to conduct repairs.

CHEC said in a statement early this morning that it is expanding its temporary generator effort in an attempt to "accommodate the return of visitors" to Hatteras Island. No timetable has been released for that possible return, or for repairs to the main transmission lines.

8:00 p.m. Saturday

Cape Hatteras Electric Coop has not yet announced a schedule for when the damaged transmission line can be repaired. One line was found spliced earlier today; two other lines are still being checked. 

Vacationers who saw their time on Hatteras and/or Ocracoke either cut short or postponed are beginning to vent more frustration on social media. There have even been some reports of things being thrown at flaggers on the highway.

After evacuating more than 3,700 people from Ocracoke, the NC Ferry Division announced it was going to a winter schedule starting Sunday for ferries to and from the island, with departures every hour during the day.

2:21 p.m. Saturday

PCL Construction, the company working on the new Bonner Bridge, is accepting complete responsibility for damaging the transmission line that brings power to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. That hasn't done much to appease the tens of thousands of visitors who have been evacuated, or are being prohibited from getting onto the islands.

Dare County officials say 60,000 people were on Hatteras Friday when the order to evacuate was given. Residents and property owners are permitted to stay. Generator backups are getting into place. The NC DOT says that by Saturday morning,  3,704 people and 1,372 vehicles had left Ocracoke.

PCL, NC DOT, and Cape Hatteras Electric Coop are at the site of the line cut, and hope to have an estimate on when power may be restored by the end of the day Saturday.

PCL sent out the following press release:

PCLNCDOT, CHEC all in conjunction with government officials, have crews working around-the-clock to make the necessary repairs to return power service to the area as quickly as possible.

Currently, there are two excavators, two vacuum trucks, and a loader supporting the repair operation. The damage is estimated to be approximately 9 feet below ground level and a trench box has been installed to support the excavation.

The crews have recently exposed the affected area and have begun investigating the damage. Electrical experts are currently initiating and assessing options for repairs.

As soon as further information is known we will update the progress. We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused to tourists, residents, and local businesses. We are doing everything we can to restore power quickly and safely.”

 

In his own press release, Gov. Roy Cooper pressed for "faster repairs".

"I appreciate the hard work utility crews are doing to get the power back on and we must help them get the work done quickly," Cooper said. "State resources are available to help Hatteras and Ocracoke and we'll do all we can to get repairs moving."

8:18 a.m. Saturday

Three campgrounds at Cape Hatteras National Seashore - on Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands - have closed due to the non-resident evacuation orders for all areas south of Oregon Inlet. Generators are providing intermittent power in villages.

No word yet on the extent of the damage to the underground transmission line, or how long the main power will be  out.

This is the scene (as of Friday evening) at the location of the transmission line cut. A crew is digging out the line and will determine how long a fix will take:

9:09 p.m. Friday

Dare County Emergency Management has issued a mandatory evacuation for the areas of Hatteras Island south of the Bonner Bridge. The order is effective at 6 a.m. Saturday and includes the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras. Officials say the evacuation is due to uncertainty as to when repairs to the electric transmission line would be complete, and as a safety precaution. Properly credentialed residents and property owners are allowed to remain.

Crews are digging throughout the night at the site where the line was inadvertently cut by construction equipment.   

4:40 p.m.

Residents of Hatteras Island are experiencing rolling blackouts and Ocracoke Island is awaiting back-up generators.

Tommy Hutcherson, who owns the Ocracoke Variety Store, said he had record sales yesterday after 35 years in business, but he's bracing for losses.

“Yesterday was a fantastic day, but today is not so many people around,” Hutcherson said. “Generally, when something like that happens, you have a very good day initially and then business starts to slow down. But it's hard to really gauge what it will be.”

Hutcherson said a prolonged outage during the island's peak season could devastate the local economy.

A crew is expected to determine today how long power will remain out. Depending on the damage and availability of necessary materials, it could be weeks.

The outage began early yesterday morning when a construction crew hit a main transmission cable near the Bonner Bridge.

The possibility of an extended outage concerns Alan Sutton, owner of Tradewinds Tackle Shop on Ocracoke Island

“It really makes you nervous when you see something happen this early in the season, when we have September, prime storm season, still ahead,” Sutton said.

Dare County officials continue to implement mandatory power conservation measures. Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative customers on Hatteras Island are asked to turn off air conditioners and hot tub heaters.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division says it had evacuated more than 2,000 people and about 900 vehicles by this afternoon. Two 90,000 pound generators are headed to Ocracoke Island and are expected to be online tonight.
3:40 p.m.

A high school science teacher will remember her first trip to a North Carolina island.

Heather Earp and a group of teachers were attending a conference at Ocracoke Island when the power went out. She said the center had a generator to keep the conference going, although the individual guest rooms were without air conditioning.

Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands went dark on Thursday when a construction company building a new bridge drove a steel casing into an underground transmission line.

Earp planned ahead for her departure, which was hastened by a mandatory evacuation order. She said she parked at the ferry dock on Thursday night, and that enabled her to catch the 7:30 a.m. ferry to return to the mainland.

3:20 p.m.

A restaurant owner on the Outer Banks says local businesses are losing a significant chunk of their livelihoods to a power outage.

Jason Wells owns Jason's Restaurant on Ocracoke Island. He says his restaurant is closed by the outage at a time when it normally makes more than $5,000 a day in sales. He employs about 25 people at this time of year.

He said many businesses are closed for as many as five months a year, so the summer months are crucial.
Aside from lost sales, he estimated his business could lose another $5,000 in food that's in his freezer right now — including $2,500 in flounder alone. He said that generators being brought on the island could save that food, but that wouldn't provide enough power to reopen.

2:45 p.m.

A Virginia man forced to leave a North Carolina island because of a widespread power outage was more concerned about business owners than his own vacation plans.

Stacy Huggins was using Ocracoke Island as a base as he and his wife traveled up and down the coast. The power outage, combined with a mandatory evacuation order for visitors, meant they had to leave on Friday and head home to Richmond, Virginia.

Huggins said the power outage would make it hard on the local economy. He said businesses create a nice experience for visitors, and that the impact of the outage will be devastating for the next few weeks.

Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands went dark on Thursday when a construction company building a new bridge between two islands drove a steel casing into an underground transmission line.

12 p.m.

The owner of Howard's Pub on Ocracoke Island says she has generator power, but business is dropping as tourists stream off the island.

Owner Ann Warner was watching a long line of cars waiting to board a ferry off the island from her restaurant that would normally be packed for Friday lunch.

Warner has talked to other business owners who are upset to be losing business at the peak of tourism season to a human error, as opposed to tropical weather such as a hurricane.

Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands went dark on Thursday when a construction company building a new bridge between two islands drove a steel casing into an underground transmission line.

10:55 a.m.

The construction company that acknowledged cutting an electric transmission cable that provides power to two North Carolina islands is digging at the site to determine the extent of the damage.

PCL Construction, which is building a new bridge between the Outer Banks and the mainland, said it accidently drove a steel casing into the underground transmission cable on the south side of Oregon Inlet on Thursday.

Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative said its crews worked through the night to provide intermittent power from a nearby diesel generating plant and two portable generators. Officials said the portable generators struggled to carry the load on the circuits, and people are being asked to minimize usage.

The cooperative said additional portable generators arrived on the island Friday morning, with more on the way.

10:45 a.m.

Tourists are streaming off a North Carolina barrier island that can only be reached by boat after a construction accident more than 70 miles away cut off all electricity.

Leslie Lanier owns a book store on Ocracoke Island, and she said by Friday morning most of the vacation destination's thousands of visitors had left.

Lanier says the island's 1,000 or so year-round residents are seeing their economy in free-fall. She says businesses like hers that depend on summer tourists are shutting down and workers aren't going to be paid during the days or weeks that power it out.

Lanier says Friday will be the first day since tourist season ramped up last month that she won't be at her book store.

10:45 a.m.

Ocracoke Island resident Rob Temple has arrived at a ferry terminal to a long line of cars waiting to leave. He was taking his daughter to a movie in nearby Nags Head but planned to return afterward to his house where the power is out.

Temple said Friday they had arrived hoping to take an 8:30 a.m. ferry, but the crowd waiting to board pushed their departure an hour later.

Temple owns two sailboats he uses to take people on cruises in the sound. He said a large group was booked for Thursday but dwindled to a handful of people after most tourists left the island. He says businesses are used to dealing with disruptions that typically come from storms.

10:30 a.m.

There aren't a lot of restaurant choices along the parts of North Carolina's Outer Banks affected by the power outage because of a line cut by a construction crew.

Coleen Gauker at the Island Convenience Store in Rodanthe says people are asking for something cold. Gauker told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk there are no cold options.

But she says employees are coming up with sausage biscuits and such, using flashlights and a gas-powered stove.

Aaron Howe says the store is the only place for people to get something to eat.

Howe said an ice shipment Thursday sold out in 20 minutes.

He did say the problems are not as bad as a hurricane.

It is cash only, since there's no power for the registers or to handle charge cards.

8:15 a.m.

A state of emergency has been issued for two islands on North Carolina's Outer Banks after a construction company cut an electrical line.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed the declaration for Hatteras and Ocracoke islands Thursday night.

Cooper says the declaration removes restrictions on weight and the hours of service for fuel, utility and other truck drivers that may be working to deliver supplies and other resources needed to restore power.

Crews were working to determine how severe the damage was when a construction crew working on a new bridge cut the power line to the islands Thursday morning. It could take several days or several weeks to repair.

Hyde County officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for Ocracoke Island. Officials hope all visitors will be off the island by noon Friday.

8 a.m.

The power utility on Ocracoke Island is still struggling to offer power to residents there. Tideland Electric Membership Corporation said on its website that an Ocracoke generator failed after only 10 minutes last night.

A small portable generator  was able to provide power near the Ocracoke lighthouse early this morning, but the company anticipates load challenges as the day heats up.

The website warned: "Remember: conservation keeps the power on! If you see lights begin to dim it could signal that the generator is beginning to overload so please begin to turn things off once again to reduce the load. If the generator does overload it will shut down and we will have to start all over again bringing the circuit up."

Tideland said two much larger generators are expected to arrive on the island today, and should be up and running by tonight.

A mandatory evacuation order is in effect on Ocracoke. Visitors are asked to leave before noon.

6:20 a.m.

Governor Roy Cooper has declared a state of emergency for Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands after a widespread power outage south of the Bonner Bridge.  Virginia-based New River Electrical Corporation is expected to dig up the transmission cable today to assess the damage.

The State Ferry Division is helping the evacuation of Ocracoke Island. Hyde County Emergency Management issued a mandatory evacuation order for all island visitors. Only residents, property owners, emergency personnel, vendors and critical infrastructure providers are allowed on ferries inbound to Ocracoke.  Priority boarding is suspended for all vessels leaving Ocracoke, and tolls will be waived for ferries on trips between Ocracoke and Cedar Island or Swan Quarter.

Generators have struggled throughout the night to provide limited power to residents on Hatteras Island. The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative is managing rolling blackouts by running a large diesel generator in Buxton, and portable generators in Avon and Waves.

Spokeswoman Laura Ertle says the cooperative expects seven more generators to arrive today.

"Even with the additional seven portable generators, we are still gonna have to ask our guests and our residents to really conserve energy," Ertle said.

"That means no air conditioning... no laundry, no dishwasher. This is really just to help cool their fridge, run a fan, and try to get them a little bit of relief."

3:10 a.m.

An estimated 10,000 tourists have been ordered to evacuate an island on North Carolina's Outer Banks after a construction company caused a power outage, leaving people stranded without air conditioning or places to eat.

The evacuation order issued for visitors to Ocracoke Island in Hyde County went into effect at 5 p.m. Thursday. Officials say no one will be allowed onto the island unless they can prove residency.

Hyde County public information officer Donnie Shumate says there are some 10,000 visitors on the island. He said the main concern was for their safety, adding that officials want to get visitors off the island by noon Friday. The outage comes during peak tourist season, which runs from mid-June through Labor Day.

Producer Will Michaels contributed to this report.