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Flooded, powerless Ocracoke begins cleanup, with supplies arriving from fishing boats

Stephen Fletcher and his friends have pulled a lot of fish from the waters around Ocracoke Island. On Sunday, they took something back.

Fletcher was aboard one of four recreational fishing boats making a run from the N.C. Wildlife Resources boat ramp at Swan Quarter over to the island that got swamped by Hurricane Dorian. Churches in Plymouth and Belhaven and businesses in the area collected bottled water, canned vegetables, baby diapers and a generator to send to island residents.

They sent it the fastest way people in these parts know how: by water, directly to the battered docks at Ocracoke.

“We’re just doing what we can,” Fletcher said.

One of the boats belonged to Joey Smith of Terra Ceia.

Volunteers from nearby communities load supplies onto boats headed to Ocracoke from the N.C. Wildlife Resources boat ramp in Swan Quarter on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. Julia Wall

“You want to help people,” Smith said. “In return, you know they’d help you if they could.”

Boats filled with supplies also are traveling to Ocracoke from Carteret County.

Once they get to the island, Smith said, they will idle in the harbor until crews from the N.C. National Guard or other agencies can help unload the items.

“We can’t even get off the boat,” Smith said. He said had talked with boat captains who had waited several hours to get their cargo unloaded because of the condition of the docks.

Relief continued to head toward Ocracoke on Sunday via ferries running to and from the Swan Quarter Ferry Terminal.

Tom Pahl, the island’s representative to the Hyde County Board of Commissioners, who lives on Ocracoke, said in a telephone interview with The News & Observer that the island was bustling on Sunday. Residents have begun the work of mucking out houses and businesses that got flooded by up to 5 feet of water from the Pamlico Sound during the storm.

“We’re moving forward,” Pahl said. “Everybody on the island is out, neighbor helping neighbor. Everybody is helping everybody.

“I’m not surprised by it, but it’s very gratifying. We’re a very strong community.”

Supplies arrive at a dock in Ocracoke Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 following Hurricane Dorian. Travis Long

Ocracoke was the site of some of the worst flooding from the storm that passed over the area on Friday. Wind swept the water away from the island, leaving boats sitting in the mud, before sending it rushing back in.

Up to 800 people are thought to have stayed on the island during the storm. So far, island officials have not lifted the mandatory evacuation order, meaning only emergency workers have been allowed on since the hurricane. Pahl said the local leaders would be discussing Sunday when to allow permanent residents who evacuated back onto the island, and when to allow on those who have rental properties or second homes.

Pahl said the island will likely still be without power for several days, as inspectors go house to house to determine whether it’s safe to turn it back on. Houses where it’s not safe to have electricity will have their meters disconnected, he said.

Pahl said that the worst damage to houses on the island was to older homes, which tend to be occupied by full-time residents. Newer homes are built higher off the ground, he said, and most of those are vacation or rental properties.

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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.