A month after Hurricane Dorian, Ocracoke School is still closed and much help is needed

Hurricane Dorian is long gone, but the people of Ocracoke Island are still struggling to rebuild their lives after the storm ravaged the community a month ago.

On Thursday, state education leaders got an overview of Hurricane Dorian’s impact on North Carolina’s public schools. There was less total damage than last year, when Hurricane Florence hit the state. But this year’s destruction was severe in the places struck in early September by Dorian.

“The life that I’ve watched go by me over the past month is nothing that I’d ever wish on anyone,” Hyde County School Superintendent Stephen Basnight told the State Board of Education. “The community of Ocracoke is devastated, and I don’t use that term lightly.”

Basnight showed images of a community where the flooding unexpectedly was higher than anyone on the island could remember. Piles of items stretching 10 to 15 feet high lined the road as people dealt with the destruction.

Ocracoke School, like the rest of the island, experienced significant flooding. For instance, Basnight said the gym is a pond, while flood waters covered expensive equipment in other rooms.

Basnight said he realized it was important to establish normalcy for the community by getting students back to school. But he said damage to the roads and ferry docks meant getting students off the island to go to other schools wasn’t an option.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent 200 iPads for students to use while they attended classes virtually.

Ocracoke School students are scheduled to return to class Monday by splitting them up into different locations, including off campus. But Basnight said that when he looks in the faces of school staff he can see the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My staff, my student body and the people of Ocracoke Island lost their homes, all their cars, their businesses and everything that they called normal,” Basnight said.

People have asked how they can donate supplies. Basnight said that’s there’s no place to put them. Instead, the school district is asking people to send monetary donations.

Overall, Eileen Townsend, chief of the state Department of Public Instruction’s school insurance section, said $6 million is being reserved to cover damages. Around $4.5 million is expected to go to three schools in Hyde County.

She said the state’s fund will cover what’s left over after what’s paid out by the national flood insurance program.

In contrast, Townsend said $35 million has been paid out for school damages from Hurricane Florence with another $15 million to $20 million still to be distributed.

“Fortunately it (Dorian) was not as impactful to all of North Carolina as Florence,” said Johnson, the superintendent. “But we’re going to hear that the people it did impact, it walloped.”

How to help Ocracoke School

Checks can be made out to “Hyde County Schools” and sent to:

Hyde County Schools

Ocracoke School Donation

PO Box 217

Swan Quarter, NC 27885

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.