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North Carolina assesses Irene damage, begins cleanup

August 28, 2011 | 12:04 pm

Dolphin rescue

The water retreated as fast as it had arrived.

By dawn Sunday, the four feet of Hurricane Irene floodwaters that had suddenly inundated downtown Manteo, N.C., on Saturday night had drained off to an ankle-deep trickle. Dirty brown waterlines left on the sides of coffee shops and bookstores were waist high. Tod Clissold, owner of Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop on Queen Elizabeth Street, arrived to find an awful mess. The murky floodwaters left a trail of sludge on his shop’s floor and his food stocks were spoiled.

"It was a foot deep inside," he said. "The worst flooding I’ve ever seen."

PHOTOS: In the path of Irene

Along North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Sunday, residents awoke to flotsam and debris, downed trees, beach erosion and flooded yards (even a beached dolphin, which was saved) -- but no structural damage. Flooding from the Roanoke and Croatan sounds that bracket Roanoke Island inundated some homes, closed roads and knocked out power, but it could have been a lot worse.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported on the Outer Banks from what Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare County commissioners, called "epic sound-side flooding."

"People who have never had sound-side flooding got it," Judge said. "People who have never had flooding in their house got it."

Ray Sturza, mayor of the beach town of Kill Devil Hills, has lived there 25 years, through five major hurricanes. "I’ve never seen water come in the way it did last night," he said. Kermit Skinner, the Manteo town manager, said no previous storm had ever dumped water into the living areas of his home.

But Irene did.

"It’s an absolutely helpless feeling when water is coming into your home and you don’t know when it’s going to stop," Skinner said.

The worst hit was remote Hatteras Island, where 2,500 residents rode out the storm and awoke to power outages, flooding and road closures.

But overall, there was a sense of relief that a hurricane that tore through the Bahamas as a Category 3 storm did such little damage by the time it hit the Outer Banks, often a target of hurricanes, as a Category 1.

"We did all right," said Hal Denny, the mayor of Southern Shores, a beach town on the Outer Banks, where the worst damage was some 100 to 150 trees blown down.

"We’re thankful," said Bobby Outten, manager of Dare County, population 35,000, which includes most of the Outer Banks.

Assessment teams fanned out across Roanoke Island and the beaches, preparing damage reports to be sent to state and federal emergency officials. Shannon Twiddy and Becky Breiholz were out at first light, wearing waterproof boots (Breiholz’s were bright pink) and sloshing through the muck left by floodwaters.

Breiholz, who braved the storm at her home in Kill Devil Hills, said she’d never such severe sound-side flooding in her 30 years there. But for hurricane damage, she said, "I’ve seen a lot worse."

The two women –- Twiddy is Manteo’s finance officer and Breiholz the town clerk -– snapped digital photographs of the damage. They took note of every shop, awning, bench, light pole and sidewalk fixture damaged in the storm. They were surprised it wasn’t worse, given the dire warnings of a possibly catastrophic storm.

"I have to admit, I was getting a little scared early on and thinking, you know, maybe I should leave," Breiholz said. As hurricanes go, Breiholz said, Irene was memorable for its sound-side flooding. But for property damage, it was just another storm.

"We were blessed," she said.

RELATED:

North Carolina death toll rises to six

Irene brings strong winds and rain to Boston 

Hurricane Irene: "Worst of the storm has passed"

-- David Zucchino in Manteo, N.C.

Photo: A dolphin that was stranded on the beach during Hurricane Irene gets help from Crew Hayes, left, Jeff Hayes, Damon Ahrendt, Valerie Real and Brad Doerr along the beach in Avon, N.C. The ad hoc rescue team got the dolphin to deeper water and it swam away. Credit: Ted Richardson / Bloomberg

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