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On Dorian-stricken Ocracoke, generators, water and helping hands arrive by boat

Generators, fuel, drinking water and helping hands were sailing toward the stranded residents of Ocracoke on Saturday morning as the N.C Department of Transportation relaunched ferry service to the island.

The first ferry out of the dock carried emergency medical workers and other aid as ferry officials ran the route to make sure Hurricane Dorian had not left big debris or deposited deep sand in the navigational channel.

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Flood waters from Hurricane Dorian fill neighborhoods in Ocracoke Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

Once the way was clear, Motor Vessel Swan Quarter was given the go-ahead to load its cargo: a convoy of dozens of trucks carrying the people and equipment that can help get the island back to some level of normalcy.

Ocracoke was the site of some of the worst flooding that happened as a result of Hurricane Dorian’s brush along the North Carolina coast.

The storm’s winds first swept the water out of Pamlico Sound, on the back side of the island, and then brought the water rushing back, flooding the island and the Village of Ocracoke to depths even longtime residents say they have never seen before.

Some emergency supplies were delivered by aircraft on Friday, but it was late in the afternoon before winds died down enough for planes to safely fly.

Normally, the state runs ferry service to Ocracoke from the southern end of Hatteras Island to the north, from Cedar Island to the south, and from Swan Quarter to the west. All ferry service was suspended ahead of Hurricane Dorian.

Service from Swan Quarter was the first to be restored. Ferry officials say boats are expected to run from Cedar Island beginning on Sunday. It’s unclear when service will be restored from Hatteras, where similarly heavy flooding destroyed at least two large sections of N.C. Highway 12.

Hundreds of people remained on Ocracoke through the storm, and are now left on an island that has no power, no landline phone service and limited cell service.

Electrical service is delivered to Ocracoke by way of Hatteras, and because of damage at Hatteras it’s not clear when service will be restored.

But generators are coming, along with gas and diesel fuel to run them. Also on the way are telecommunications workers who can start to work on rebuilding mobile phone service; N.C National Guard members with high-clearance vehicles that can power through deep water; and the ministerial services of Ivey Belch, pastor of Livesaving Church — Ocracoke Assembly of God.

Belch evacuated the island ahead of the storm, and he drove onto the ferry Saturday to return to his flock. He had talked to some of the members of the church, which got its start on the island in 1938.

”People are just picking up the pieces,” he said as the line to the ferry began to move.

For now, only returning residents and emergency crews with supplies will be ferried to the island.

Working with Hyde County, the state Department of Transportation has offered to bring anyone who wants to leave the island back to the mainland on a ferry, and if they don’t have a car, will deliver them to an emergency shelter at an elementary school in Plymouth.

Several ferries are expected to run on Saturday, and if no problems arise, the schedule will be stepped up on Sunday

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.
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