There was more demand for batteries than beer among the few who remained on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Surfers who delight in roiled water before a hurricane got in their last licks at Virginia Beach. And Ocean City took on the vacant look of a warm day in February.
“We’ve managed to get a bit of business today — but that’s because we’re the only store still open,” said Brad Donnan, who manages Cahoon’s Market in Nags Head, N.C., as he glanced around the quiet aisles. “I’ve lived here for 22 years and this one might be the worst one I’ve ever seen.”
Hurricane Irene was forecast to hit the Outer Banks around midday Saturday.
By Friday afternoon, Nags Head was a ghost town. Almost all of the motels and swim wear shops on the main thoroughfares were closed. Several were boarded up. The weather was cloudy and humid.
Red flags warned that swimming was already unsafe. Police went door-to-door to remind residents that the county-wide mandatory evacuation orders did not just apply to tourists.
The Outer Banks’ 33,000 residents are normally fairly stoic when it comes to hurricanes. Many describe it as a part of the excitement of living close to nature and even enjoy throwing “hurricane parties,” boozy get-togethers that make the most of the fact that everyone has to be inside while the storm rages. However, on this occasion, even some stalwarts have decamped to the mainland.
“Why gamble?” said Jamie Terrell, a 34-year-old construction worker, as he and his wife loaded their black sport-utility vehicle with crates of food and bags of clothes. Terrell was driving inland to his brother’s house. He and his wife have lived in Kill Devil Hills, the neighboring town to Nags Head, for 12 years and usually stay put during the hurricanes that regularly hit these beaches.
“We’ve lost several thousand dollars of revenue this weekend,” said William Peters, who has run the Cypress House Inn in Kill Devil Hills for seven years. All six of his rooms, priced at $199 per night, had been booked this weekend. “We have to refund deposits — it would be harsh not to — and there’s no way to make the money back. Once the weekend’s passed, it’s passed.”
Despite police visits, it looked like most residents of the Outer Banks had decided to stay put.
“We have to stay because, if you leave, you can’t get back,” said Mary-Lou Allen, 56, as she boarded up her house in Nags Head on Thursday evening. She recalled that, during 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, those who left the islands could not get back home for eight days because of flooding.
Allen, like many of her neighbors, had stocked up on water, ice, canned food and crackers. She had also bought gas for her generator.
To the north, in Virginia Beach, Scott Barta grabbed his surf board on Friday and went for a rollicking ride in the waves.