Hundreds of carloads of tourists waited in line yesterday to leave North Carolina's Outer Bank islands by ferry after a storm-tossed dredge Friday crashed into the only bridge linking one of the islands to the mainland.
Power and telephone service remained out on Hatteras Island, south of the collapsed Herbert Bonner Bridge, and emergency crews worked yesterday to bring containers of water to the island and to establish a shelter at a local school, where stranded residents could seek heat and food.
"I'm sure there are still hardships," said George Spence, Dare County Emergency Management Coordinator. Spence said a generator was being set up on the island yesterday to provide emergency power.
The 200-foot-long Northerly Island dredge, which brought down a 370-foot section of the bridge across Oregon Inlet, was being pulled ashore in the late afternoon. The dredge, tossed by heavy seas and gale winds that peaked at gusts of 90 mph, hit the bridge at 2:21 a.m., snapping the high-voltage power cables to Hatteras and stranding 5,000 people without direct access to the mainland.
Four of the 10 crew members on the dredge scrambled up an undestroyed part of the bridge while the others remained aboard the vessel.
Residents on Ocracoke Island, 70 miles south of the collapsed bridge, said hundreds of carloads of tourists formed miles-long lines waiting for ferry service from the village of Ocracoke to Swanquarter and Cedar Island west of the string of islands.
"There are massive lines, we've practically got gridlock here," said Jeannetta Henning of Black Beard's Lodge in Ocracoke. "It's not a very comfortable situation."
Henning said portable toilets had been set up along the side of the road but that gasoline was in short supply. "They're having to stay in line and have to stay in their vehicles or they'll lose their place in line" for the ferry, she said. "It's a mess."
Four ferries that can carry 40 vehicles each are running around-the-clock as of yesterday, she said.
But looking out on the packed parking lot in front of the Berkeley Center Country Inn, where the ferry line began, owner Wes Egan said it seemed that four ferries were not nearly enough. "Some of these people are going to have to sleep in their cars," said Egan, "and it's going to be pretty chilly here tonight."
Egan said most people were acting patient, however. "There's no way out," he said. "This has never happened before."
Dan Robinson, a part-time fisherman in Ocracoke, said several small boats had sunk in the storm and that many fishermen had lost their nets. "It's been quite a poor fishing season and a lot of these boys got their money tied up in their nets," he said. "Financially-wise, it's going to hurt them a lot."
Officials have said it could take six months or more to repair the 2 1/2-mile-long span that links the island to the Nags Head area.
Robert Oszajca of the National Weather Service said the storm that ravaged the area has moved into the North Atlantic. Winds, clocked at 15 to 20 mph yesterday, were expected to die down. Temperatures were in the upper 50s and low 60s; skies were clear.