“Most of the people who live around here look forward to the August-to-September hurricane waves because that’s as good as it gets,” Barta said.
Residents in the Hampton Roads prepared for Irene’s arrival with a mixture of grave concern and cool defiance. Duct tape crisscrossed windows, and plywood went up over storefronts, often spray painted with messages such as “Irene, go away, have mercy,” “Irene loves saltwater taffy,” or simply “Store is open.”
The seats had been removed from a ferris wheel near the boardwalk, letters had been removed from outdoor marquees, and cranes were lowered to the ground at construction sites along the major highway leading into the city.
Meanwhile, a long line of traffic snaked out of Hampton Roads on Route 64 westbound as visitors and some residents evacuated. Other residents beat a steady path to convenience stores and groceries to stock up on milk, ice, beer and other essentials.
Officials also urged voluntary evacuation of Knotts Island near the North Carolina border, city spokeswoman Mary Hancock said.
Yet the previously scheduled East Coast Surfing Championship, said to be the second longest-running such event in the world, went on more or less as scheduled. People strolled the boardwalk. Others milled outside ice cream parlors or lugged boogie boards toward the beach. Murphy’s Irish pub advertised a “Hurricane Party.”
Lisa Heath, 40, of Chesapeake, said she picked up loose things in her back yard.
“We’re used to all this,” Heath said.
If the boardwalk was open in Virginia Beach, there was no such activity up the coast in Ocean City.
The wide boardwalk planks were clear except for sea gulls and pigeons. The seats had been removed from the ferris wheel at the Jolly Roger Amusement Park. Heavy garage-style storm doors were down and sandbagged at the T-Shirt and candy stores facing the still calm Atlantic, a summer fun land prepared for the worst.
By Friday afternoon, the mandatory evacuation was all but complete and apparently successful. Ocean Highway, normally jammed with vacationers during these final days of summer vacation season, was an empty, endless vista of blinking traffic lights. Shuttered restaurants continued to flash digital ads for steamed crabs and sea-salt shooters over empty parking lots. Hotels, their balconies stripped of table and chairs, stood deserted and dark.
Tim Jenkins, 19, was waiting outside a shuttered scooter store for a ride. The year-round Ocean City resident had stayed up the all-night in order to go out body surfing at dawn Friday in the building waves. But by day’s end, his mother had insisted he join her in nearby Chincoteague until the storm had passed.
“I want to stay but they say they’re going to cut off power and water to make everybody go,” said Jenkins. “I’m going to try to get back right away to catch some of the surf.”
A block away, two international workers took photographs of each other in front of a plywood sign reading “Jesus, Lord of Irene.” Igor Yeryukov, 21, and Nikita Abdrashitov, 22, both students from Kyrgyzstan working as Ocean City cooks for the summer, had ignored an organized evacuation of summer workers to nearby Salisbury in order to experience a tropical tempest.
“I want to see a hurricane, to feel it,” said Yeryukov.
“It will be a new emotion for us,” said Abdrashitov. “We don’t have hurricanes in Kyrgyzstan.”