Irene, the New Benchmark

Despite our well intentioned preparations, hurricane Irene took everyone in our villages by surprise. I knew we were going to have a significant storm surge from the Pamlico Sound, as in storms of the past, but not to the extent that we got. In 2003, Isabel brought in 18 inches of water on my property. Floyd in 1999 was 24 inches. Bonnie in 1998 had 26 inches. The March storm of 1993 flooded with 50 inches of tide, and Irene came in with a whopping 66 inches. According to some of the old timers, the storm of 1944 was a benchmark by which other storms were compared. Flooding back then was apparently somewhere between the March storm and Irene. Hurricane Irene brought in more storm surge from the sound than any storm for the last 75 years. It is now the new benchmark for soundside flooding in our villages on this part of Hatteras Island.

Boarded up, an all too familiar sight.

Pamlico Sound tide blown out upon Irene’s approach.

Tide coming in ahead of the wind shift.

Smoke on the water as the shifted southwest wind picks up, blowing 50 to 60.

During a lull, I ventured to the beach for a shot at the ocean.

It was pure chaos, and I had trouble making it back to the house.

Good thing I wore my chest waders. 3 feet of water had already entered my yard, and I had 5 cats to rescue from the rising water. The barometer had dipped to 964 millibars and in the end dumped 6 feet of sound tide around my house. The water had risen to within a fraction of an inch from coming inside. We were extremely lucky.

I took this screen shot of my computer, using a battery backup, right after the power went off.

The next morning after the storm, the yard was a mess with debris.

The tide had gone right up to my heat pumps, and then some.

This is highway 12 in front of my house after the storm. It was eerily quiet, warm and damp. I would soon find out that many residents did not fare as well as I did. The road down the island had also been washed out.

There were many homes damaged or lost.

And of course, the electricity was cut off.

Also as a result, the cottage Tailwinds eventually fell into the sea.

The road at Mirlo Beach was destroyed.

A leaner at Mirlo Beach.

Highway 12 at the S-Curve.

A new inlet had been cut at the S-Curve, exposing cypress stumps of a forest nearly a thousand years old.

The inlet is actually an outlet caused from the sound rushing into the sea.

Another outlet was carved through North Beach Campground in Rodanthe.

A motor home at North Beach.

Gerald O’Neal surveys the mess at his family-run campground.

The campground’s general store was inundated with sound tide.

Lance Midgett’s house is over 100 years old. This is the first time a tide from Pamlico Sound has gone inside. His cleanup and rebuilding will take a long time.

As residents take on the daunting effort of rebuilding, debris is piling up along highway 12.

Since the day after Irene left, the Salvation Army has been there to help those in need.

They are providing 3 hot meals every day,as well as lifting our spirits.

Now the ferry system is the only way on and off the island.

For days, trucks have been running around the clock to deliver sand from a borrow pit in Avon. NCDOT hopes to fill in the gap at S-Curve cut by the storm surge.

Pallets are moved into place to enable trucks to dump sand for a new roadway. In the meantime, huge swells from Hurricane Katia threaten the shoreline.

Do you think this is really going to work? This is a classic “man against nature” scenario.

Meanwhile the debris continues to pile up along highway 12. This is far from over.

32 thoughts on “Irene, the New Benchmark

  1. Dharam (aka Penni)

    I have friends there I haven’t heard from since my senior year of high school on the Island 1970-1971. My heart goes out to all of them. I hope my best school friend Sandra O’Neal is fine and her lovely home was not damaged. Sending thoughts and prayers to everyone!

  2. Cheryl Elmstrom

    Thanks for sharing Michael! You are most talented! Even in times of devastation, you have a way of making our Islands beauty shine through.

  3. Jennah

    This is the best recap I’ve seen so far. I’m so glad you saved the kitties! I was worried when I saw one in that pic. Good luck to you all in rebuilding.

  4. Russ

    Mike: My brother in law in Avon lives in a 100 year old farmhouse also, like Mr. Midgett. Your photos give a better idea of what he is going through. He is eternally grateful for the help of Red Cross, Coast Guard and all the volunteers.

  5. Lisa

    Thank you for the pics. Ya all are in my prayes. Good luck to you and look forward to seeing your future work.

  6. maria

    Hi Michael, thinking of you guys and wish i could be there to help the community get back on its feet. Your photos, as per usual are beautiful- even in such times of hardship. I feel honoured to have been a part of RWS for a short time – and my heart is firmly planted there. I have been moved by the stories of such stoicism and resilience, and am proud to know such amazing people. Take care of each other and send my love to all. love Ria * all the way from down under x

  7. Cheryl Gray-MCdonald

    Mike, Great article about the storm and as usual great photos. Yes, it certainly is a new benchmark and it’s saddening to see how badly the northern villages and Avon fared. I hope that you and Denise did not have too much damage. During the storm, around 8:30 pm, our friend & next door neighbor in Avon, Mark Oneal, called us to let us know he had waded over to our house & and it appeared the tide might have stopped coming in. At that time it was just shy of an inch before going into our house. We breathed a sigh of relief only to find out that there was another surge and it went up another 2 feet after his 1st call. Libby tells me that our floors are buckled, doors damaged and the water went inside just under 2 feet. Her whole family suffered losses too. Might be time to bite the bullet & get our house lifted if we intend to keep it for the rest of our lives. Anyway, I am so grateful for Libby and her family because they are doing all they can to dry the place out. We will be there waiting in line at Stumpy Point on Saturday hoping to get back down home.

  8. Carol Williams

    Thank you so much. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then with those pictures, a thousand tears have been shed as well.

  9. Lisa Clark

    Wow, these are the most accurate and up to date photos I have seen of Irene’s effect on the Outer Banks.
    They hit me right in the heart, where they should.
    Thank you for what you do.

  10. j0jgvm89bj Post author

    yes, my heat pumps will need to be replaced, hopefully through flood insurance.
    our insurance adjusters have already been here to see everything.
    thank you for your comment.

  11. cyberkrinn

    Mike, thanks for the pictures and for chronicling the event. My heart goes out to all of you and I am moved by your positive spirits, sense of community and your bravery.

    I love HI and can’t wait to get back. We stay at our friends’ house in Avon and it has become our home away from home.

    Be well!

  12. Cheryl Gray-MCdonald

    I meant to mention earlier, the photo of the ancient exposed cypress is especially amazing.

  13. Strayhorn

    Thanks for these photos – serves to confirm my suspicion that the flooding was above the 100-year mark. It certainly was in Kitty Hawk.

    My condolences on the yard full of marsh cane. I spent a whole day last week getting it out of a friend’s yard. And watch out for creepy-crawlies hiding within.

  14. Maryann Hooper

    We are truly saddened by the devastation from Irene. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with the islanders of Hatteras Island. We are praying for a quick recovery and send our support. With love for Hatteras Island and it’s people.

    The Hooper Family

  15. Ann Gurganus

    Loved your photos and was suprised of the one with the exposed cypress trunks/roots, that is awesome how you got the pic of that…..amazing what was there before the water took over….I love Ocracoke, but have recently found a great place in Rodanthe that now is my next favorite and hoping it was not messed up with this storm…..

  16. Bev

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your photos, always amazing, especially in telling this story. Glad you fared as well as you did. Tried to reach Robin but no answer… My thoughts & prayers are with you and everyone in your community. Bev

  17. Kathy Hooper

    Mike, I am so glad to hear from you and to read your captions from your photos.It brings great comfort coming from someone you know.We are so saddened to see the results, and its frustrating to have to just wait to come “home” to help.Glad to see you are all safe,and will get down as soon as they will permit us. Take Care, Kathy & Kenny

  18. Tracey

    Thanks so much for the images of Rodanthe. My family and I are there every week-end (Camp Hatteras). CH faired okay but there are so many others who did not. Prayers are being sent up for all of you on the island.

  19. susan mccown

    WOW i am amazed at your images, saddened at the content. the damages HI has endured thru the years has truly been taken to a new level. the captions were especially helpful. it has been hard to find familar places with all the destrution.
    i just wish you could get this out to the tourists who are like UH where the damage?? honestly! we got slapped pretty hard soundside, but you guys really took it on the chin.
    my heart go out to yall down there. its a long way back but knowing the people who live here we will get there.

  20. Cathy Clementz

    Dan and I had the opportunity to work for the Alligator River NWR and Pea Island NWR a couple years ago, so your area was our home for about 4 months. We so much enjoyed the area and we truly feel for all of those affected by it. Thank you for sharing your photos.

  21. j0jgvm89bj Post author

    I think CE was off the island. Russell & Judy were here, and are fine. The fishin’ hole looks like a total loss. The tide bashed right through the front of the store. Owner Mike Jackson was off the island, as far as I know. Most likely he’s here now surveying his losses.

  22. John Rayfield

    Hi Michael, Been thinking of you all lately and glad to know you are all ok. I`m sure you`ve got your hands full cleaning up and rebuilding.I missed my visit with you all this summer. Was looking forward to seeing folks there. Regards to Denise and Robin.Would like to help in some way but don`t think I`m allowed on the ferry??
    John Rayfield

  23. Rochelle Jenkins

    We visit your photo studio every June and October. Have painted our home with your beautiful photographs because we love HI. We have been watching your blog since the end of the Hurricane and I must say we were getting concerned when you didn’t post anything. . Glad to finally hear that your okay. We hope to visit at the end of October as always, Island willing. But in the mean time we pray for all the families on the island and send our love and support. Jenkins family

  24. j0jgvm89bj Post author

    Dear Jenkins family,
    Thanks for your concern. It has been a long few weeks. My blog entry was delayed partially due to lack of internet service, but I was also busy with cleanup chores. Then on top of that I hurt myself in the process. Things are slowly getting some normalcy, bit it’ll be a very long time that we’ll see the scars as a reminder. Now ferry service has been disrupted by weather, and I have heard there are also some problems with the power lines running through the Pea Island washout. We need to remember our geographic location here is literally created by the forces that shape it, including these storms.
    Thanks again.

  25. Tim Persons

    Michael — We have been thinking of you throughout. And so sorry to hear that you injured yourself. We hope you’re OK. When we saw you this summer I think I told you that we’d be back — supposedly on October 1. We’ll have to see! Our hearts go out to everyone. Mary and I made a donation to You all are in our thoughts! Tim.

  26. colleen

    this is an amazing spread, thank you for publishing it. The Man Against Nature pic says it all with the global weather change going on the hurricanes are set to get even worse…glad you saved your kitties.

  27. Sandy Papp

    Mike, Your pictures are amazing and I feel through them that we are there. Sorry to see the damage done to your place. We hope that time and patience has begun to heal the people on Hatteras Island. We especially hope that you and Denise are well and back on track. Our thought and prayers are with you both.

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