Quiet town awaits Irene

Published 8:04 pm Friday, August 26, 2011

Downtown Washington is virtually deserted as Hurricane Irene churns toward the North Carolina coast.

Several businesses are boarded up, and sandbags block the doors of others.

Earlier in the day, Susan Pickens was busy moving her stock away from the flood she expects to roll onto Water Street overnight Friday and on Saturday morning.

Pickens planned to spend the night in her store, Sentimental Susan’s, a gift-antiques-and-framing shop.

“I’ve been here 11 years, and this is the fifth time I’ve packed up,” she said.

On a wall of her store are felt-tip-pen marks representing the flood levels of past storms.

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel pushed a surge from the Pamlico River across Stewart Parkway and into the building. Numerous other tropical systems have left their calling card on the structure.

“I figure I’m safe in here,” Pickens said. “It’s a 108-year-old building, and I’m going to be safe. It’s just if the water starts coming here in the back, then I have to take my stuff (out).”

The be-prepared ethic was in evidence well beyond Pickens’ store.

For at least three days, boaters across Beaufort County have been pulling their boats out of the water or securing them to docks and slips with tightly drawn ropes.

As people rush to stock up on supplies, shoppers have reported the usual, temporary shortages of staples like milk and bread in between shipments to grocery stores.

And some gas stations have posted signs saying they’ve run out of regular unleaded gas at certain pumps.

“Part of hurricane preparations is for everyone to fill their gas tanks before they go home,” said Gray Deans, chief financial officer of F. Ray Moore Oil Co. in Washington.

Deans added the company’s two Liberty gas stations were doing the equivalent of seven days of business in one day.

As for future tanker deliveries, “How fast they can bring it is how fast we can sell it,” he said.

Back downtown Friday afternoon, Kim Richardson was manning the phones in the offices of the Greater Pamlico Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Richardson was dispensing advice on the items evacuees should take with them to Washington-area shelters.

She finished her supply list with the words, “And then, patience.”

Patience was the word of the day as Irene loomed south of the Carolina beaches, its exact effects on Beaufort County yet unknown.

But Pickens wasn’t waiting to see how rough Irene would be. She was elevating her store’s books, records, knickknacks and sundry other pieces, stacking them as high as she could.

And she and her two helpers weren’t going anywhere while the stock was in danger.

“I’m staying here all night,” Pickens said.

Susan Pickens, owner of Sentimental Susan’s shop on Washington’s Water Street, on Friday talks about the storm surge she expects from Hurricane Irene. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)