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Searching for the Rare Bright Spots in the Power Outage

Friday 04 August 2017 at 12:17 am.

By JOY CRIST

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” – Woody Allen

So a little more than a week ago, I was working on a blog entry about erosion.

Then I went to bed on Wednesday night, July 26, and woke up the next morning - along with everyone else on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands - to a dark and warmer-than-normal bedroom.

It was several hours later that the phrase “be prepared for an extended outage” popped up, and we all started to realize we may have a bigger than expected problem on our hands.

Then came Friday night, July 28. I was working on a blog entry geared towards visitors about conserving power when they came down the next day for their vacation. It was a tough piece to write – one that no one will ever read – because you are essentially asking people as nicely as possible not to use pools, or air conditioners… In July. In North Carolina.

And just as I was finishing up the spellcheck and shooting it to our publisher, we learned about the mandatory evacuation for visitors.

So this blog is literally “Take Three.”

And at this point, I am fairly confident that by the time I finish up my last sentence, something completely unexpected and groundbreaking will occur that will render everything I’ve just put on paper absolutely useless. Perhaps we’ll be invaded by unicorns. Or maybe a “Deep Impact”-style tidal wave will approach. Or maybe I’ll wake up and realize this was all a longer-than-necessary dream.

In any case, anyone who has any sort of a stake in Hatteras Island felt completely disoriented this week.

Vacationers who were already packed for Saturday’s trip suddenly realized that they didn’t have a destination to go to. Business owners who depend on summertime income to make it through the winter realized that there was a tough road ahead for the remainder of 2017. And CHEC staff and workers, well, I’m certain that they realized that they weren’t going to be able to sleep for a very, very long time.

The unexpected is maddening. And it truly brings out the best, and the worst, in absolutely everyone.

Just look at literally any social media thread that is related to the power outage.

So many people have weighed in on the topic of the power outage, and the emotions range from frustration to gratitude, rage to optimism.

And it would be ridiculously easy to focus on the “worst” of the week, too.

So far, there are four class action lawsuits in the works against PCL, (and more will likely follow. This is a story that is in its very beginning stages, and we’ll likely be talking about it for months or even years to come.)

Residents had to throw out hundreds of dollars of groceries that rotted in fridges and freezers. Business owners closed altogether, or reported less than 25% of the income compared to this same time last year. And thousands of visitors had their vacation – the event they save up for and look forward to all year long – completely stripped away.

Yes, the worst of the outage is obvious, and it has been rehashed many times over. Rightfully so, too. A week-long visitor evacuation and an extended power outage causes a ton of harm and hurt across the board.

But now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and this unexpected outage is about to be over, there’s an opportunity to highlight the slightly brighter aspects of the outage instead.

And… I kid you not, as soon as I typed that last sentence, the power flickered out. (God’s sense of humor is seriously starting to get old.)

But you know what? That’s fine for two reasons: 1) I learned my lesson and am writing “Blog Attempt #3” on my laptop, which has a full battery, and 2) CHEC said this would happen, and it’s because they are testing the lines as part of the final steps of the repairs. So this is actually a good sign.

So with that forced-to-be-an-optimist mindset, here are all of the bright spots of an otherwise dark week…

I can think of three. Starting with:

CHEC – (Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative)

Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands have truly been blessed with the hardest working power company in the country. And this is not an exaggeration.

From the early morning hours of July 27, until just minutes ago when the August 3 afternoon update was posted, CHEC has been incredible at working 24/7 until the issue has been resolved, and keeping us informed at every step of the way.

CHEC and the accompanying teams that were helping out with the outage – such as NCEMC, NCDOT, Lee Electric and New River – were also very smart in that they pursued not one, but two possible solutions.

Getting the severed cables pieced back together was the obvious fix, clearly. But the experts working on the site started to simultaneously work on a second solution, which is the installment of an overhead transmission line. It was this second solution in the end that reduced the outage timeframe, and which has led to Hatteras Islandbeing ready to open for business in just a day or two’s time.

That’s good strategy. And the responsiveness of CHEC - from repairs to communication with customers - is truly the bar for all other power companies and cooperatives to reach.

The Local Community

If you want to see just how generous and resilient island locals are, put them in a tough situation.

Governor Roy Cooper himself commented on islanders’ resiliency when he visited the Avon Pier earlier in the week, and Dare County Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Bob Woodard echoed this statement at the same gathering, noting that “This is not your first rodeo.”

It’s certainly not, and for many locals, it was odd to have an evacuation without an accompanying hurricane attached.

But despite the unusual circumstances of this unexpected emergency, locals sprang into “helping” mode – as they do with every dire situation, from storms to power outages.

Residents in area villages went door to door to their neighbors who they knew might need help, and started bringing over supplies and finding generators to loan out.

Donations started being collected – both locally and from organizations from all over the Outer Banks and beyond – and were made readily available, “free market” style. The St. John United Methodist Church in Avon was stocked with bottled water, dried goods, and plenty of fans which were free to anyone in need.

And the stories of neighbors helping neighbors kept trickling in all week long.

Someone would post a request on social media for a generator or a fan for a neighbor of theirs, and would be quickly be flooded with comments from folks who wanted to help. Local businesses offered specials and discounts for residents who were losing income, and conversely, residents starting patronizing local businesses to help keep them afloat.

Our community is amazing, and generous, and proactive in a crisis. And that is a valuable and rare thing indeed.

Anxiety levels are understandably high, no doubt about it. What else can you expect when you completely lost one of the busiest weeks in the summer?

But locals did what they always do when a crisis occurs. They helped neighbors, pitched in wherever needed, and did it with a wry and dry sense of humor along the way.

Which reminds me, the award for best remark during the outage goes to Capt. Ernie Foster of Hatteras village, who told me when I ran into him at the Avon Pier – “This is the warmest February that I can remember!”

The Local Supporters

People who love Hatteras Island are rooting for us. And if you don’t believe me, look at the comments section of our Island Free Press Facebook page.

Here are a few of our favorites:

“My heart goes out to the people of the outer banks. I love the islands and they are continually in my thoughts and prayers.”

“I'm bringing my family this fall and promise to spend lots at the local businesses!”

“We will be there Thanksgiving week no matter what. Promise to patronize you all. Heck, we love you so much we took the Stumpy Point ferry one year. Ten hour trip took eighteen hours. You guys are worth every second of it.”

“We have been coming to you since our kids were in diapers and now they're teenagers. Every year in August we look forward to our time there in Hatteras village.”

“We are due in this Saturday for our annual family time there and pray we can breathe in the air and enjoy this precious piece of heaven."

"Amazing job to these workers, working so hard for relentless hours."

We prayerfully hope we get to visit our quaint shops we love so much to visit when there xxx”

“My family always vacations in Salvo, we just spent an amazing week there the week before this outage happened. I couldn't imagine living in a place that so many people…Not just the US, but all over the world want to come [to] for their yearly family vacations. It truly is an amazing place. Blessings and big Thank you to all the locals for your hospitality and sharing your lovely area with open arms! We will be back God willing next year”

It would be easy to keep going, but you get the idea.

We may be isolated, but our longtime visitors love the area and have our back. This is why so many for us feel the heartache of those that were scheduled to come this week, and which is why we’re ready to re-open the floodgates so that our regularly scheduled summer visitors can return.

We may be isolated at the moment, but there are tons of people out there who are cheering us on.

Honestly, there are a couple more things we could be thankful for in the past week. There’s been an increase in media attention that could eventually lead to more visitors. (The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau reports that they are using every conversation with national media outlets as an opportunity to highlight just how amazing Hatteras Island is.) We also lucked out with the weather earlier this week, with evening temps that were almost cool enough for us to forget that our air conditioners were turned off.

But it is hard to be strictly “Pollyanna” about the outage situation. There was a huge loss of revenue, a huge loss of vacations for people who deserve them, and two islands that are wondering what the financial repercussions will be in the months to come.

At the same time, the moment that the power is switched back on for good will be a moment to be celebrated. (Unless I just jinxed it by putting that in print – didn’t have much luck with my first two blogs, after all.)

So for your own sanity, and to soothe the stress that days of anxiety can naturally cause, try to take a breath and think about the small bright spots that flickered during the power outage.

After all, you can find negative aspects of the outage with ease. Heaven knows, it’s an easy topic to cover.

But this isn’t our first rodeo, and it’s not our last rodeo either. I’m sure there’s a full season of rodeos in our long-term future. (Although I have no idea how rodeos are traditionally scheduled. I’m assuming there are rodeo seasons, like football or NASCAR.)

But, for now at least, there is respite in sight after a long week of the unexpected.

The power outage knocked the wind out of us to be sure, but we’ll keep on breathing just the same.

Oh, and remember how I noted before that as soon as I finished writing, there would be a new event that would render my words useless? We just got an email that the power is fixed, and the evacuation is lifted starting Friday at noon…

Best Laid Plans, indeed.

seven comments

salvo jimmy

This claim form was posted on Facebook. Don’t know if valid.

http://outerbanks.pcl.com/

salvo jimmy - 04-08-’17 14:38
Dawn

Awesome writing and yes this Island stands together…. a little piece of Heaven on Earth

Dawn - 04-08-’17 14:40
Hal

I noticed that with the power outage and the evacuation there was a snigificant jump in gas prices. Although probably necessary, the only ones hurt by this were the locals, who did not need additional financial bourdan.

Hal - 06-08-’17 03:18
diver531

Hal … shoulda took a week and went somewhere else ! I’m irritated beyond belief that there will be no restitution for all those folks , even if they had the insurance , do to the outage not being a act off nature . Although i’m sure there will be a few good hearted owners , the majority and the real estate folks are really putting a damper on getting those folks back as OBX renters because of their out and out greed . The company that punched a hole through those cables should be made to make restitution ! Those law suits coming out won’t mean diddly , it’ll take 10 years to settle and i’m thinking after the lawyer slugs get their share it’ll work out to about $10 bucks a family . Ok rants over . Not everything on Hatteras/Ocracoke are peach’s and cream .

diver531 - 07-08-’17 03:38
Howdoyousleep

Speaking of rare bright spots, I met a rental home owner from West Virginia that had owned his Hatteras property for 13 years but had never been down in “prime season” and was enjoying the locals and owners only week. He said the only thing better then getting to enjoy his beach home in August was the fact that someone else was paying for it and he did not have to refund any rental money due to the NCVRA……how about that for a bright spot?

Howdoyousleep - 09-08-’17 04:21
diver531

An owner can block out any week and use their home whenever they want …just proves exactly what I was saying – greed . What exactly would it have taken to give back half of the rental fee’s as good faith , c’mon back to visit this island . Now … with people loosing thousands they will never go back . The locals may have different standards but those once inawhile homeowners sure don’t !

diver531 - 10-08-’17 16:51
Peter Ruth

Joy, you need to get out more. There is no denying that Power Companies are the salt of the earth but really, 60 or 70 degree weather, balmy breezes and you consider CHEC to be the best in the country. Think again. Think about the northern states where the snow and hail storms blast away in sub-freezing temperatures. Not once in a lifetime but every year. Your folks would be a long ways down the list if we did an honest poll of hard working Power Companies.

Peter Ruth - 22-08-’17 21:39




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