Saturday, 5 August 2017

Tourists return to Outer Banks islands, as communities measure economic damage

Two North Carolina counties on Thursday lifted evacuation orders as of noon on Friday, allowing tens of thousands of people back to the Outer Banks a week after a power outage forced the emergency measures at the height of the summer vacation season. USA TODAY
When a construction crew accidentally cut through power transmission cables in North Carolina last week, the lights on Ocracoke and Hatteras islands sputtered off. So did most of a $2-million-a-day economy.
“It couldn’t have been at a worse time,” Dare County Manager Bobby Outten said. “For many of the businesses down there, they went from thriving during peak season to closed for a week.”
Vacationers returned to the two Outer Banks islands Friday after crews restored power a week after the blackout sparked a mandatory evacuation. Things could have been even worse for business: The outage was expected to last for as long as three weeks at one point.
“I would expect the island to be back in full swing by the end of the weekend,” Hyde County Spokesman Donnie Shumate said. “Thankfully we got the evacuation order lifted a little earlier than expected.”
Now, Dare and Hyde County are taking stock of the economic damage
Dare County officials will meet with business and rental owners next week to calculate how much Hatteras lost, Outten said. The island usually rakes in about 17.5% of the county’s $1 billion economy during the summer.
Hyde County officials kicked off Friday with a community meeting for business owners and rental offices on Ocracoke. About 100 showed up, Shumate said.
Hyde County is working directly with PCL Construction, the company that accidentally severed the power while working on a new bridge, to reimburse businesses and the county for their losses, Shumate said. He added he hopes the community can steer away from a class-action lawsuit filed Monday. 
The lawsuit, which alleges PCL was negligent when it damaged the lines, seeks compensation for more than 5,000 people.
“Business owners, hourly employees and rental property owners are relieved that the island will be up and running,” Joseph Sauder, a partner at McCune, Wright, Arevalo, which is representing the case, told USA TODAY. “However, one completely lost week in a short seasonal business is significant.”
In a statement, PCL apologized for "the inconvenience caused by the outage.” The company added: “We are working to provide assistance to those affected."
Dare County officials will also explore negotiations with PCL, Outten said. “We’re going to gather info and work with our people.” he added. “If PCL is going to resolve the damage, our people will come out better.”
Meanwhile, officials on the islands are just excited to see visitors return. Shumate and Outten said they both expect to see the usual peak season crowds on Ocracoke and Hatteras by the end of the weekend.
“All of our businesses will be up and will look like nothing ever happened,” Outten said.


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