Restoring Power to Hatteras, Ocracoke Could Take 1 to 2 Weeks

Dare County issued a mandatory evacuation order for all visitors to Hatteras Island on July 29, 2017 as crews continued to work to restore power to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.

CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. - The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative said Sunday that power restoration to Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island could take one to two weeks as it considers two options to get electricity back to customers.

Gov. Roy Cooper plans to visit the bridge where three transmission cables were damaged, causing the evacuation of tourists from two islands on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

A news release from the governor's office says Cooper will visit the Bonner Bridge on Monday. It spans the Oregon Inlet. Three cables were damaged Thursday by a construction company building a new bridge parallel to the current one.

The co-op determined all cables transmitting power to the islands were compromised when a contractor accidentally drove a steel casing through the underground cables on July 27.

PCL Construction, CHEC, and New River Construction, the cooperative’s transmission contractor, excavated the site of the damaged cables that are part of CHEC's transmission system under the south side of the Bonner Bridge.

Crews exposed one of the cables and saw that it was completely severed. The cooperative ran tests Saturday to check the integrity of the other two cables and found issues with them. 

In an update Sunday, CHEC said it was looking at two potential solutions:

  • Continue excavating the damaged cables and work to splice them back together
  • Build a new overhead transmission line that would run from the south end of the Bonner Bridge to meet the cooperative’s existing overhead transmission line

The cooperative said it would pursue both options until it was clear which would provide the fastest and safest choice for a full repair.

Mandatory Evacuations

Dare County issued a mandatory evacuation for visitors to Hatteras Island Saturday, joining Hyde County which ordered visitors off Ocracoke Island Thursday.

The evacuations come after a contractor hit a line carrying electricity to the islands from mainland Dare County this week.

The evacuation order for Dare County went into effect at 6 a.m. Saturday. 

The evacuation does not effect any areas north of Oregon Inlet, which will remain open with no restrictions in place.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said the state was offering all available resources to help efforts to manage the crisis and restore power quickly.

Thursday, Cooper declared a state of emergency, the same day that Hyde County issued its evacuation order for tourists on Ocracoke Island.

About 10,000 travelers had to take the long ferry ride back to Cedar and Hatteras islands.

Like Ocracoke, Hatteras Island has been dealing with blackouts from the outage. The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative says PCL Construction took responsibility for the massive outage. That's the company building the new Bonner Bridge. They drove a steel casing into an underground transmission cable during construction.

PCL says they're working with NC DOT to figure out exactly how it happened.

Generators bring limited power for some

On Thursday evening, CHEC tweeted that it was providing power to some customers on Hatteras Island through two portable generators and said it hoped to power up seven more portable generators on Friday.

Customers in the villages of Buxton and Frisco on Hatteras Island were among those receiving power from the generators, Dare County officials said in a statement.

PHOTOS: Power outages in the OBX

CHEC is urging residents who do have power back on, to conserve energy. That means no laundry loads, no running the dishwasher, and keeping the AC units turned off. You can keep your refrigerators plugged in and your ceiling fans running, but that's the extent of how much power you're being asked to use right now.

If people use too much power, that can trip up those generators, which is why officials are urging people to conserve as much as possible.

The Dare County Water Department also asked Hatteras Island residents to conserve their water use because the outage was limiting production capacity. The water is safe to drink, however.

More portable generators are being brought in, and officials are working to find out how bad the damage is to that transmission line that was hit. Depending on how bad it is, it could be days or weeks before its repaired.

Tourists deal with setbacks

About 9,000 customers were without power on the two islands. The outage comes at the height of tourist season, which runs from June through Labor Day.

Vacationer Erica Plouffe Lazure was visiting Ocracoke Island from Exeter, N.H., but because of the outage, had to cut her trip short and head instead to Elizabeth City. The motel she'd booked on Ocracoke fired up a generator, but the generator exploded minutes after it started, Lazure said.

"There's a lot of hot, sweaty people here," she said, adding that she tried to find another motel farther north along the North Carolina coast, but they were either full or charging as much as $500 a night.

"This is a beautiful island and I waited two years to come back here because it's one of my favorite places in the world," Lazure said. "I'm a little bummed that the power has gotten in the way, but ... next time."

Laura Ertle, spokeswoman for the New River Electric Corp., the Roanoke, Va.-based company that erected the cable on the original Bonner Bridge, said she sympathizes with the tourists.

"We know that people are spending a lot of money to come down here and they look forward to their vacation on Hatteras Island every year," Ertle said. "We know that they're getting frustrated, but we just really appreciate their patience."

Ertle said representatives from her company will help dig up the cable that was damaged.

At the very least, it's going to be a very long weekend for the residents and businesses until officials can get a better handle of the situation.

Contributing: Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY and The Associated Press

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