Good night, Irene

Published 4:32 pm Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene rolled the roof off the Little Shoppes of Washington on Main Street. Part of the roof, seen above, landed in a parking lot between Main and Second streets. The Little Shoppes building has been condemned by the City of Washington, its contents a total loss. Businessmen Gary Ceres and Richard Snow were among the vendors at the shops. They estimated a $5,000 loss in their stock. (WDN Photo/Cecilia Prokos)

Residents seek to put hurricane, its toll behind them

The scent was familiar — pine.

It wasn’t coming from a pine-scented car-freshener — or a box of such fresheners. It was coming from hundreds, if not thousands, of downed pines in Washington and throughout Beaufort County.

On a Sunday morning with blue skies and a bright sun, area residents were removing storm debris — mostly downed trees, tree limbs, roofing shingles and window screens — from their yards. Hurricane Irene left plenty of it behind as she assaulted the region Saturday.

At one house on Charlotte Street in the city, one man was mowing grass.

People were trying to return to “normal” lives.

Following a long-standing Washington tradition, people were waiting for the Mecca in downtown Washington to open its doors as soon as possible after a hurricane to serve food. This time the meal was breakfast.

“I said we’d be open as long as we have power to serve these customers,” said Danielle Hunnings, who, along with her husband, Mike, own and operate the Mecca.

The Mecca’s front door opened at 8 a.m. today. Six customers were waiting for that key to be turned in the lock. They were more interested in ordering and eating than talking.

While some people had the luxury of dining out Sunday, others couldn’t get a drink of water at their homes.

Thousands of Beaufort County water customers on the south side of the Pamlico River were without water Sunday.

The county has issued a boil-water advisory to all south-side customers who do not buy their water from the Town of Chocowinity. This includes all nonmunicipal water users outside of Chocowinity from Cox’s Crossroads past Aurora all the way to the county line.

The Town of Chocowinity has offered the county a staging area where people may fill up containers with water. This staging area will be located at the ballpark off N.C. Highway 33 in Chocowinity.

The county recommends that people bring to the staging area enough containers for a two-day supply of water for each member of the household.

For more information, call the county’s Emergency Operations Center at 252-946-2046.

“All county water customers on the south of the side of the river do not currently have water service at this time,” said Jim Chrisman, interim county manager.

Chrisman estimated 3,100 water customers had no water service.

“The issue is we’ve had reports of bridge washouts down there on secondary roads,” he said. “We suspect it’s possible that when those washed out, our water lines may have washed out as well. The (county) water department is reporting possible, numerous breaks at various locations. That makes it difficult to sustain water pressure and proper flow.”

Chrisman said his immediate concern was getting to people on the south side, who were hemmed in by tree-blocked secondary roads.

“We’re working on that issue right now,” he said.

Chrisman has requisitioned two Federal Emergency Management Agency generators to run the county’s south-side water-treatment plan, and the interim manager expected those generators to be in place by early Sunday afternoon.

“In the meantime, the Town of Chocowinity has graciously agreed to tie into our system and feed us water so that we can start getting some capacity back into our tanks,” he said. “When we do restore water in certain areas, we’ll have that backfill in place.”

Power outages continued to be widespread in the county, and phone service was spotty.

“The City of Washington’s actually been restoring power in certain areas,” Chrisman pointed out. “I know the City of Washington’s working very hard. Progress Energy and Tideland (Electric Membership Corp.) are both working diligently.”

Officials in Aurora and Belhaven reported extensive flooding Saturday.

Belhaven Town Manager Guinn Leverett said the water was higher in Belhaven than it had been at any time in recent memory. He offered a storm-surge estimate of 7 feet.

Official surge and wind reports couldn’t be obtained immediately.

Jennifer Woolard lives in the Belhaven area. On Sunday morning, Woolard took photos of several houses that were badly damaged or destroyed at Pamlico Beach in eastern Beaufort County. Woolard also said there was significant damage in the Ransomville area off N.C. Highway 99.

Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, resides just outside Belhaven.

Hopkins’ community was inundated by Irene.

“Apparently it has taken off quite a bit of our roof because it is pouring water out of the ceilings in the bathroom and dining room,” Hopkins said during the storm. “I’m talking buckets. … It’s running down the walls. It’s all in my kitchen cabinets.”

Hopkins and her immediate family live approximately a quarter mile from the Pungo River.

“We can see the river, but we’re not on it,” she said. “It looks like a mountainous river … the water’s coming in so fast.”

Hopkins’ husband, Josh Hopkins, had been in communication with his father, who lives at Pamlico Beach.

The father lives in an elevated home that had a downstairs wall washed out by the tide.

The father reported that a doublewide mobile home on blocks had been washed away, according to Kellie Hopkins.

From her perspective, Irene’s effects over Belhaven were worse than those unleashed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

“I’ve been right here or right across the street through every one of them since the early ’90s, and this is the worst one we’ve had,” she said.

After public schools in Beaufort County opened to students Thursday, those students get a day off Monday.

“We’re closed tomorrow,” said Sarah Hodges, public-information officer with Beaufort County Schools.

That closure applies to students and 10-month employees of the school system, Hodges said. The school system’s 12-month employees should contact their supervisor to find out if their workplace has power, then report to work only if their workplace has power and can do so safely, Hodges said.

School officials will decide Monday if schools reopen Tuesday or remain closed.