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Hurricane Dorian reshaped Cape Lookout with 54 new inlets, causing damage and closures

The before-and-after Hurricane Dorian photos of Cape Lookout National Seashore are dramatic. The pre-Dorian thread of sand was sliced into dozens of pieces after the storm passed.

Rob Young, a geologist at Western Carolina University, said storm surge eroded the back side of the barrier island, with water rushing from Pamlico Sound back into the Atlantic Ocean, physically changing the beach in a way he hasn’t seen in 30 years.

The North Core Banks, the northern part of Cape Lookout National Seashore, has lost sand to long-term sea level rise and numerous storms, said Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

“This level of breaching and sound-side impact is really unprecedented,” Young said Tuesday at a presentation sponsored by NC Policy Watch.

Some of the biggest cuts in the beach are around Long Point Cabins, Cape Lookout National Seashore Superintendent Jeff West said in a phone interview.

The rental cabins were damaged and are now closed. There’s also no treated water or power to the facilities. There’s no timeline for reopening the cabins.

The North Core Banks and South Core Banks are closed to the public. Shackleford Banks is open to boats and campers. Ferries are going to Harkers Island and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse area, according to the seashore’s website.

It’s not realistic to manually fill the gaps with sand, West said. Filling in the overwashes just near the cabins would take 20,000 dump trucks of sand, he said.

In all, there are 54 new inlets through the 22-mile North Core Banks.

Scientists are going to see what happens naturally, West said. Some of the new inlets still have water flowing through them, West said. “We don’t know if we’ll have permanent inlets or if they would fill back in.”

“It’s just going to take a while,” he said. “We’re going to have to see what happens with nor’easters from this winter.”

Cape Lookout has been hit with plenty of storms, but Dorian was different, West said. Preliminary figures put the storm surge at the North Core at more than 9 feet, he said.

Even though the changes look dramatic, they aren’t necessarily terrible for the national park, Young said. Birds and other creatures are used to storm-related changes, he said.

Young predicted that Long Point will eventually reopen.

“They will have to take a very thoughtful approach to how they’re going to use that area in the future,” he said. “I think it will reopen, but it’s going to be different.”

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Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.
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