WANCHESE, N.C., FEB. 12 -- About 30 chilled Hatteras Island residents joined state and local officials on the newly repaired Herbert C. Bonner Bridge at sunset tonight, 110 days after a dredge slammed into it during an October gale.
"Now, we appreciate what we had," said Sandra Swanner, who works at a craft shop at Rodanthe, a village on Hatteras Island.
"Now we need to let everyone know they can come back," said Emily Landrum, who with her husband owns a restaurant at Rodanthe.
The two women had walked about two miles from the southern end of the bridge to the point where the dredge Northerly Island crashed into the bridge and toppled a 369-foot section into the storm-tossed inlet.
The dredge broke loose from its moorings on the morning of Oct. 26. It slammed into the pilings of the 2 1/2-mile bridge and knocked the span free. Brisk winds at the ceremony tonight served as a reminder of the stormy night when the residents of Hatteras and Ocracoke islands were stranded from their jobs, and tourists were temporarily stuck on the Outer Banks.
The ceremony lasted 15 windy minutes. Officials cut a yellow ribbon before driving over the span. A patch of asphalt where the span was replaced served as evidence that $5.8 million in repairs had been made.
State Transportation Secretary Tommy Harrelson and other officials thanked Gov. James G. Martin (R) and the Hardaway Co. of Columbus, Ga., for their speedy action to restore the span. Initial estimates were that repairs would take as long as six months.
Bill Barley, vice president of the Hatteras Business Association, said he was especially thankful that the bridge was restored so quickly.
The lack of access between the island, the northern end of the Outer Banks and the North Carolina mainland took an economic toll on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Although the accident occurred after the tourist season, it came at the beginning of the fall fishing season, "and this was one of the best we've had in a long while," Barley said.
Lack of access also made for anxious moments for area medical services and people depending on them.
Linda Garrish, a member of the Ocracoke Rescue Squad, said she had seen a few emergencies made more tense when the bridge was out. "But actually we're used to depending on ourselves to get things done," she said.
The rescue squad depended on a helicopter from Pitt County for medical emergencies, she said.
Ann Bailey, a teacher in Manteo who lives in Hatteras Village, sported handmade ferry-buster pins and cheered when the last two ferries met and sounded horns in the middle of the inlet.
"It's been up at 4:15 a.m. and home at 6 o'clock every day," Bailey said. "Thank God it's over."