Outer Banks Island Businesses Shocked By Power Outage

Aug 1, 2017

Jason Heilig stood in the doorway of Rodanthe Surf Shop on Hatteras Island on Monday.

No customers picked through the board shorts or tried on sunglasses. The trailer of surfboard rentals sat filled to the top. For a normal midday in late July, Heilig would like to see those reversed: an empty trailer and full shop.

Related: Company Blamed For Outer Banks Power Outage Facing Lawsuits

This is the busiest time of year for businesses on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands, businesses that rely heavily on tourist spending. When construction crews severed the main power lines to the southern Outer Banks islands last week, it sucked the life out of the economy.

"It's been a terrible surprise," said Heilig. "In the past, when we've had business interruptions, it's been due to hurricanes and storms that we could see coming. We couldn't see this storm coming."

He added: "We're peaking out this time of year. Every year we can expect to do our best days in sales these weeks. This is one of the highest grossing weeks of my whole year."

On Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper visited the construction site where power was severed.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

After earlier declaring a state of emergency, Gov. Roy Cooper visited the site of the accident on Pea Island on Monday. Cooper also met with local business owners a few miles south on Hatteras Island. He promised to work with Attorney General Josh Stein to compensate businesses for their lost revenue.

"I hope that there is a way that people can be reimbursed," Cooper said. "Clearly this was a company's fault, and I think that we should work hard to make sure people are made as whole as possible."

Last Thursday, during construction of the replacement for the Bonner Bridge, crews with PCL Construction drove a steel piling through two of the three main power cables. All of Hatteras and Okracoke Islands were without the main power supply.

Still, Cooper held faith for the resolve of the people who make their livings on the Outer Banks, noting that they work through hurricanes seemingly every year.

Crews continued to work on the Bonner Bridge project, which will connect Nags Head Island to Hatteras Island.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

"But this is a little different in that this is a man-made accident, that has occurred here," Cooper said. "I have no doubt that they will be back and in action as quick as the power is turned back on. I know they are going to be ready to go and they are going to be ready for people from all over the world to come back to the southern part of the Outer Banks."

Backup generators provided a small charge for residents, but around 45,000 tourists evacuated, or were prohibited from coming to the islands south of Oregon Inlet.

On the beach itself, the sight was almost eerie. Everything seemed normal to a late July afternoon, except for the odd absence of humans. Vacation homes that normally house several groups of tourists, stood completely empty, almost reminiscent of a ghost town of the old west.

Among locals, some have turned their anger toward construction workers. Heilig, the surf shop owner with an athletic build, long hair and a kind smile, said that's unfortunate.

"There's anger, I hate to say it, but I think there is. I think there's a lot of blaming, and it's unfortunate because we all know no one intended to breach our power lines. It was an accident," he said.

Turns out, there is one small segment of people who are actually enjoying the power outage. Betty Jean Andrews lives with her husband and three kids on Hatteras Island.

Crews worked to reconnect power cables.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

"You know usually when you are coming across the street in the summer, it's like playing Frogger," she said. "The locals know to stop for pedestrians but visitors don’t. So it's kind of scary with three kids this time of year trying to get across the street."

Officials now estimate between six and 10 days for power to be fully restored.