CAROLINA BEACH — Carolina Beach residents lined up hundreds of cars deep before passing through a police barricade on the north end of Snow’s Cut bridge to return to their homes earlier this week.
Charter boat captain Dave Tilley arrived at 5:45 a.m. to claim first spot in line, eager to return to his home on the island’s north end; Tilley knew he’d have to pump water from the first floor, and then check his bait freezer.
“That has been without power for five days. You can image what it smells like now,” Tilley said.
Further back in line was Jen Pavlov, who had stayed on the island alone without cell phone service for five days. She had crossed the bridge Monday morning to stock up on food at the Food Lion at Monkey Junction.
“We had flooding, no power for five days, no food,” Pavlov said. “The water was getting up to the first floor. There were big, lifted military vehicles honking their horns in case you needed rescue.”
Flooding and beach erosion biggest issues
In town, many houses near the flooded Carolina Beach Lake and at the north end of the island were still surrounded by sitting water. Minimal structural damage was apparent — the end of Carolina Beach Pier had broken off during the storm and the roof of Surfside Motel was missing — but most damage was limited to blown off shingles and siding.
According to coastal engineer and Carolina Beach resident Adam Priest, water will continue draining into the lake while being pumped west to the Cape Fear River. The most extensive damage to the island was from flooding and beach erosion, he said, although the beach experienced much less damage than the beaches to the north of Wilmington.
After visiting stretches of the beach near Sandpiper Lane, Ocean Boulevard, Alabama Avenue and on the north end next to the broken pier, Priest estimated that 10 to 20-foot wide escarpments ran along the edge of the sand dune.
“Although they did lose a lot of sand, it could’ve been a lot worse. You lose that much dune, as bad as it is, it did what it was supposed to. That’s the reason these coastal communities pay a lot of money to build these beaches up, and to build their dunes up, so they have that buffer when the storms come,” Priest said.
Throughout Monday, helicopters flew overhead while Duke Power trucks, military-style police trucks, and roofing crews were seen driving through the town’s streets, many blocked off due to standing water. The storm’s wrack line — debris that identifies the high water mark — came beyond 3rd Street near the lake.
James Townsend was at a neighbor’s house helping clear tree debris. He had stayed during the storm.
“The first night, Friday night, the wind was really bad,” Townsend said. “But we were lucky because it was blowing in from the (Cape Fear) river, and it was taking the tops off the storm surge because we had a late high tide that night, which kept the water at bay. But after the eye passed through, (the wind) came the other way, off of the ocean, and that’s when we started getting our surge.”
Townsend said that after the eye passed, the wind began blowing from the ocean.
“That’s when we started getting the rain. That night, the rain was unbelievable. It sounded like a train all night long … The wind was so bad, I was out on the porch checking my chairs out front, and I heard the wind whip, and I just crouched back in the corner. I’d never heard anything like that. It was just unbelievable,” Townsend said.
Town cut off from supplies
Meanwhile, Carolina Beach and Wilmington are still cut off from the rest of the state due to flooding on I-40 and NC 74, and supplies are running low.
At the Sunoco gas station in downtown, manager Ryan Stout was told by owners that it was unsafe to let customers in the store: its canopy was leaning on the roof. He decided to open anyways and bring goods outside to customers, using a cash and paper ledger system.
Stout said that customers had purchased plenty of beer and other drinks, but mainly cigarettes.
“I’ve sold about four or five cartons already. People are buying five to six packs at a time. These people have been stuck on the island, man,” Stout said.
Island True Value Hardware and Tackle, which opened at noon on Monday, is anxious for a shipment of tools used for roof reparations and downed trees, along with propane and batteries.
“We’re sold out of quite a few things because we can’t get a delivery truck here,” co-owner Griffin Barber said. “We’re doing the best we can … we have one chainsaw left.”
Alongside her was former mayor Dennis Barber, who has lived on the island for 58 years.
“We’re resilient, we’ve been through a lot of (hurricanes) here,” Barber said. “We are just so happy that we were spared a category 4 or 5. This one has presented challenges from the flooding standpoint more than anything else. A lot of trees down, a lot of fences down, but that’s repairable. As long as nobody got hurt, we need to be thankful.
Barber also said that he has heard of no one getting hurt during the storm, and few people remain without power.
The town’s response
Jim Walker, riding his bike down Lake Park Boulevard near the town hall, applauded the town officials on their planning before the storm.
“I’ve never seen that kind of planning and communication anywhere I’ve been. They got to the recovery in a really expeditious manner, they kept everybody informed, and getting back on the beach was easy breezy,” Walker said.
He also felt fortunate that the town escaped the wrath of a larger storm.
“This storm was so unpredictable. And they couldn’t get a read on exactly what it was going to do, even at the very end. So we had to make our decision based on it being a worst-case scenario, which would be if the eye hit us and we got the full brunt of the storm surge,” Walker said. “If we had gotten (a category 3 or 4), which was just a roll of the dice, we would’ve lost half the homes on the beachfront. And it would’ve been a devastating result.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com