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On Hatteras Island, communities come together, clean up and try to smile after Dorian

Down at the volunteer fire station near the southern-most point of Hatteras Island, a dozen people were waiting in line not long after noon on Sunday — there either to tell someone what they needed, or what they could give.

The eye of Hurricane Dorian had passed over this part of the island two days earlier, on Friday, and now the locals were convening to trade stories of how they fared, and resources for neighbors who needed help. The volunteer fire department, Station No. 40, had become a town square of sorts.

The sign out front spelled out a brief, shorthand message, “Sign up for vol or help.” People had come on Sunday to put their names on a list to donate their services, said Christinia Hicks, who was one of a few working the sign-up desk just inside the fire station.

“It always brings out the sense of community,” said Hicks, 36, a veterinarian and a Hatteras native. Her husband was out back working over a hot grill, fixing meals. “As you can see, we just fired up the grill and got some hot dogs going, and everybody’s in here.”

Hicks has experienced her share of hurricanes on Hatteras, and though she said she had not heard of any “horror stories” amid Dorian and the aftermath, she and everybody else here could pass along stories of struggle, about people who were most affected.

Angelo’s Pizza employee AnnaGrace Gray washes furniture Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 after the Buxton restaurant flooded during Hurricane Dorian. Travis Long

She said she knew of a family whose backdoor blew away during the storm, allowing 90 mph winds to rush through the house, depositing rain, sand and water. Most people around, said Hicks’ husband, Jeremy, had at least a foot of water come through their property.

“One of our junior fireman, his house – it sits on the sound, and it’s an older house, and they probably lost everything,” Jeremy Hicks, 41, said between shifts on the grill. “They had to have had 18 inches in their house. Windows busted out during the storm.”

Laundry needs

Cleaning and laundry are among the most-repeated needs on the sign-up list.

“Salt water, marsh water – it’s nasty, it’s stinky,” said Jeremy Hicks, a charter boat fisherman and volunteer firefighter. “It’s got bacteria in it. So the push is to get the water out. And get anything that’s had water in it, out. Dried, cleaned.”

There were no deaths associated with the storm on the island, Gov. Roy Cooper said during a briefing in Manteo on Saturday. But there were stories of loss up and down N.C. Highway 12 through the island. Lost possessions. Lost business.

In the middle of Sunday afternoon, four men carried ruined appliances — a washing machine, a refrigerator — off of a trailer and placed them on the side of the road next to a pile that included a water-logged couch. That was near Frisco.

Trucks drive through standing water on N.C. 12 near Hatteras Village Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Travis Long

A little ways north, in Buxton, the employees at Angelo’s Pizza were drying out the restaurant equipment. One of them held a blower and aimed it at puddles in the parking lot, trying to clear the water. A young woman named AnnaGrace Gray, who normally works the cash register, was outside washing furniture. She said her dad lost his car to the flooding, and Angelo’s had been flooded out.

On the northern end of the island, near the Basnight Bridge over the Oregon Inlet, sand still covered a lot of N.C. 12. Emergency crews had spent much of Saturday clearing the road, or at least clearing what they could. The farther south, the more the road became covered with patches of shallow flooding. Trucks could pass through, but not cars with low clearance.

Mr. D the hurt squirrel

Toward the southern part of the island, in Frisco, volunteers gathered at another fire station to hand out meals and water. Maj. Andy Kelly, of the Greenville, S.C., Red Cross, said he and a colleague handed out 80 lunches on Sunday alone. Kelly had traveled more than 10 hours from South Carolina to arrive in Frisco, and he said he was planning to be in the area for as long as two weeks.

Inside the Frisco Volunteer Fire Department, two women had driven from Nags Head, about an hour north, to drop off a small squirrel that had been hurt during the storm. They named the squirrel Mr. D — “after Dorian,” one of the women said — and delivered it to Richard Marlin, the fire department’s assistant chief who also works with Outer Banks Wild Care, an animal rescue organization.

The scenes on the island delivered contrast — things that had been ruined next to luxurious vacation homes that didn’t appear touched. Not far from the volunteer fire department in Frisco, just north, a large pile of water-logged belongings sat beside one side of a driveway, opposite a metallic-silver, oval structure on the other side that looked like a UFO.

LeRoy Reynolds, right, and his brother Denny Reynolds unload a truck filled with debris onto the roadside in Frisco Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Travis Long

The UFO, with alien stickers on the windows, is a piece of Outer Banks kitsch. It is something for vacationers to wonder about while they drive past it on the way to somewhere else and, maybe, something for locals to grumble about given the absurdity of its placement, right next to the main highway on the beach.

On Sunday, in the driveway behind that UFO, the man who placed it there helped his family clean up after the storm. His name is LeRoy Reynolds. He and his wife and son placed piles of brown debris — wood and branches and sawgrass — into the back of a pickup and drove them to the side of the road.

“I dress up like an alien sometimes,” Reynolds, 57, said during a break, a non-sequitur. He wore a shirt that said “stranger danger,” with a picture of an alien head on it.

He said he’d never seen the kind of flooding, however brief it was, that came with Dorian. The house at the end of driveway, which belongs to Reynolds’ daughter, was on stilts. Reynolds pointed to the water line, three feet high on the wood holding up the house.

“This was one of the worst ones,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds, who said he served for six years in the Marines, said he keeps the UFO out front because he likes the thought that when people drive past it, they might smile.

He said there hadn’t been much to smile about here for the past week, and that there might not be a lot to smile about for a while, until the cleanup ends — whenever that might be.

He insisted on offering a tour of the UFO. He unscrewed the lock on the door and it creaked open, unleashing a smell of mildew and musty water. He dressed up like an alien, in green, and posed.

“I woke up this morning,” he said after he pulled off his green mask. “I’m smiling.”

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Andrew Carter spent 10 years covering major college athletics, six of them covering the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. Now he’s a member of The N&O’s and Observer’s statewide enterprise and investigative reporting team. He attended N.C. State and grew up in Raleigh dreaming of becoming a journalist.