In the 23 years that I've been reporting news on Hatteras Island, there has never been a hurricane evacuation or re-entry that was not controversial.
And Hurricane Arthur was not the exception.
The storm that became Arthur started as a low pressure area off the Florida coast the week before it made landfall south of the Outer Banks about 11:15 p.m. on Thursday, July 3.
As early as the last week of June, the storm had the attention of forecasters, emergency managers, and residents along the southeast U.S. coast. Any disturbance in that area -- so close to the coast -- is reason for concern. It can quickly strengthen and quickly reach the coast.
By Monday, June 30, Arthur was clearly a concern for the Outer Banks. The National Hurricane Center gave the low an 80 percent chance of becoming a named storm and said an approaching cold front and dip in the Jet Stream would lift it up the southeast coast.
There was still hope, however, that the storm would move by us offshore, perhaps well offshore.
By mid-week that hope was fading as forecast models honed in on Cape Hatteras. The storm was now forecast to become a minimal hurricane.
An evacuation was looking more likely since the week of July 4 is the busiest and most crowded of the summer on the Outer Banks.
Ocracoke finally ordered an evacuation for residents and visitors about mid-day Wednesday. And to the surprise of many, it was a voluntary evacuation, effective at 2 p.m. that day.
Later on Wednesday afternoon Dare County ordered a mandatory evacuation for residents and visitors, beginning at 5 a.m. Thursday morning.
By late afternoon and evening on Thursday, the winds were picking up, and they were really gusting by dark.
After making landfall at Cape Lookout, Arthur came up the Pamlico Sound in the early morning hours of July 4 and crossed back over the barrier islands into the Atlantic somewhere around Oregon Inlet.
The peak wind speed at Cape Lookout was 101 mph, and winds on Hatteras gusted up to and over 90 mph in some areas. Storm surge was minimal on southern Hatteras and Ocracoke, but up to 7.3 feet in the northern villages of Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo. The tri-villages sustained serious damage from both wind and surge from the Pamlico Sound.
About 2,200 customers lost power on Hatteras, but most did not. By the end of the day on Friday, only scattered outages remained.
Highway 12 was impassable after the storm, but the N.C. Department of Transportation did an impressive job of removing sand and water, repairing broken and buckled asphalt, and checking the safety of the Bonner Bridge.
By Saturday morning, the highway was passable and Dare opened up Hatteras Island to residents and essential personnel. At 4 p.m., visitors were allowed to return to Hatteras.
Ocracoke, on the other hand, closed entry to the island. More than 40 damaged power poles cut power on the entire island.
We were all fortunate that there was not a higher storm surge all along the Outer Banks and that surge and erosion on the oceanside was minimal. Most on southern Hatteras were spared damage from wind or tide.
On southern Hatteras and Ocracoke, some houses were missing shingles, a few windows were broken and screens were blown out, and downed trees and limbs fell into yards and roads and Highway 12.
The tri-villages were a different story with more serious wind damage and widespread damage from a storm surge that was measured by the National Weather Service at up to 7.3 feet in Rodanthe and 5.5 feet in Salvo.
Though Highway 12 was impassable, there were not even minor breaches of the pavement.
The July 4 holiday and much of the weekend was devoted to storm cleanup, which continues even today in the tri-villages.
In the week since the storm, there has been plenty of discussion about evacuation and re-entry.
As is usually the case, not all folks are happy with how they were handled and some of them are really unhappy.
Public safety issues aside, an evacuation during the busiest week of the tourist season is serious business for Hatteras and Ocracoke.
I haven't heard many complaints about how the evacuation was handled on Hatteras Island, although even Wednesday morning it was not apparent that the county would evacuate.
The county held onto hope during the day that there might be a change in the forecasts, but by afternoon it was abundantly clear that the hurricane was taking aim at Cape Hatteras.
The Dare County Control Group met at 5:30 and issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents and visitors on Hatteras Island beginning at 5 a.m. Thursday. After 5 a.m. Thursday, no access was allowed to Hatteras Island.
Visitors had all night Wednesday and much of Thursday to make plans, pack up, and hit the road. Some, but not many, residents left.
There were probably some businesses that were not in favor of the mandatory evacuation, but they've had nothing to say publicly so far.
On Ocracoke, it was a different story.
Many folks were surprised and perplexed by the voluntary evacuation.
Hyde County's auxiliary control group on Ocracoke met Thursday morning for the first time as the island was facing a possible direct hit that night.
It was obvious from the comments at the meeting that some members of the group were not happy that a decision on evacuation had been made without consulting them.
The decision was made by the Hyde County Commissioners in a phone call on Wednesday morning. Ocracoke commissioner John Fletcher favored the voluntary evacuation.
On Thursday, there were an estimated 9,000 visitors on the island. No one knows how many eventually left and how many stayed.
As it turned out, winds howled, but storm surge was minimal and there was little structural damage.
However, ocean overwash made the north end of the island impassable and more than 40 damaged power poles left Ocracoke without power for close to 48 hours.
By Monday, even the commissioners weren't sure they had made the right decision, indicating at a regularly scheduled meeting that a voluntary evacuation might not have been the best action.
“We need to look into the protocol,” noted Barry Swindell, board chairman, toward the end of the two-hour meeting. “We need to include the Ocracoke Control Group. Some things didn’t exactly go the way we thought.”
“There were some decisions made, and there were some good decisions, but as time went on turned out not to be so good,” noted commissioner Earl Pugh Jr. “We need to get more people involved earlier. It was the board’s decision (to do a voluntary evacuation). We can learn and make better decisions.”
Unlike evacuation, re-entry stirred little controversy on Ocracoke.
With no power, it was clear that visitors should not come to the island. Those who had stayed began leaving when ferry service was restored on Friday afternoon, July 4.
Power was restored at 9:30 Saturday night, July 5, and at 10:30, the county began allowing visitors back onto the island.
On the other hand, Dare County's decision to allow residents and essential personnel back at noon on Saturday and to open the island to visitors at 4 p.m. has brought the usual complaints and second-guessing.
Non-resident property owners who wanted to attend to their storm damaged houses or even just clean up the yard debris were unhappy that they were not allowed on the island at noon.
Off-island property owner Brenda Shade sent this e-mail to the county commissioners and copied the Island Free Press:
"You let hundreds of anxious, angry deserving homeowners wait for NO reason at Oregon Inlet. Safety is your issue, right? The realty company has 525 homes to inspect and you should know that they do not have the personnel to accomplish inspections in the few hours you give. Do you not realize that allowing the non-resident back on the island frees them up to do their job better? We spent four hours repairing screens, chairs, water damage, sand removable from our property, achieving the safety you say you want and you were not willing to give us the precious time we needed. Do you ever have concern for us? If indeed you do not and you cannot explain to me why I cannot come back to the island, then come forward and say, so that I may continue to seek other avenues to help me with my rights."
The 4 p.m. re-entry for visitors time was not officially announced until 3:30, though word started getting out much earlier. Shortly after noon, I was told that someone had posted on Facebook that visitors could return at 4.
Dare County manager Bobby Outten said early Saturday afternoon that no announcement about visitor re-entry had been made because the county didn't want visitors to line up at the checkpoint north of the Bonner Bridge.
However, they lined up anyway. By the time officials started letting them through about 20 minutes before 4, vehicles were backed up to at least Whalebone Junction. And one person reported that traffic was backed up to Outer Banks Hospital.
Several new arrivals said it took them more than 4 1/2 hours to get from Whalebone Junction to Frisco or Hatteras.
Some found out when they arrived that their rental houses were not ready yet. At least one property management company did not get all guests settled in their rentals until midnight.
Most visitors didn't seem to complain too much -- they were just happy to have gotten on the island Saturday.
The re-entry was the most controversial in the business community, which was split between those who wanted visitors back as early as Saturday morning and others who favored Sunday -- or even Monday or Tuesday.
Most property management companies opposed the Saturday re-entry.
Many employees do not live on Hatteras and also had to leave the island on Thursday. They weren't allowed back until noon on Saturday, just four hours before visitors were let onto the island.
The companies were responsible with what employees they could muster for closing up hundreds of rental houses Thursday and Thursday night until the winds started gusting. Many managers and employees who live here were up most of the night during the storm.
Early Saturday morning, they had to start assessing damage at houses, open them up and clean them for the new arrivals on Saturday.
The tidal flooding was so bad in the tri-villages, which had the most damage, that employees couldn't even get there from southern Hatteras in the morning.
Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo were a stinking, smelly mess of tide in yards and in the road, water damage, and damage from wind. Water, muck, and debris from the sound filled swimming pools and ground-level hot tubs. Some rental houses needed serious repairs and cleaning. There was no power on some streets that had been flooded.
One company worked until midnight in the tri-villages to get guests into houses or relocate them.
Most property managers wanted visitor entry delayed. Some wanted a delay until Sunday and others even later --until even Monday or Tuesday -- said Allen Burrus who represents Hatteras on the county Board of Commissioners.
One property manager said she thought letting visitors into the tri-villages raised a public safety issue.
"We weren't frivolously holding out guests while we washed windows," she said. "We were talking basic services.
"Something's changed (about re-entry)," she continued. "It's not about public safety and services anymore. It's political."
Meanwhile, businesses, especially from Avon south where there had been only minor storm cleanup, were eager to re-open on Saturday.
These independently owned island businesses operate on very narrow profit margins and make most of their money between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Losing July 4 business was a blow to them, but losing the rest of the weekend was even worse. They were ready to salvage what they could.
To make the point about the importance of the July 4 week and weekend, one business owner told me that he made $30,000 in one day on July 4 last year. He made $1,600 this year.
Another business owner said she lost $10,000 in business during the three days of evacuation compared to the same dates last year.
Ouch. That hurts, and it well illustrates the position that our county officials and control group members find themselves in when they make re-entry decisions.
Personally, I thought early Sunday would have been a more reasonable time for visitor re-entry. However, by the time these folks reached their destinations on the island, shopkeepers would have lost the entire weekend.
Perhaps re-entry is more political -- or at least more economic. But it's not and never has been easy.
"When the governor announced the road was open, we had to let them (visitors) in," Allen Burrus said.
No matter the decision, he said, "You're going to make them mad anyway."
Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare Board of Commissioners, called re-entry "challenging."
He said that if he had Hurricane Arthur re-entry to do all over again, he would not change anything.
"We review after each storm," he said on Wednesday. "It gives us experience, but it does not give us a road map. Each storm is different."