With all power cut, tens of thousands flee NC Outer Banks islands


The news for tens of thousands of people forced to evacuate two Outer Banks islands of North Carolina got worse Sunday: Authorities said all that three power lines to the remote islands had been damaged and that electricity could be out of commission for as long as two weeks.

The Outer Banks — a string of barrier islands spanning most of the North Carolina coast — are served by three underground power cables from the mainland. On Thursday, a construction company building a new bridge over Oregon Inlet to one of the islands accidentally drove a steel casing into a power cable, the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative said in a statement Sunday.

One of the cables was completely severed, and the two others were "compromised," the cooperative said.

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North Carolina's Outer Banks
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North Carolina's Outer Banks
RODANTHE, NC JUNE 12: Homes along the coast of Outer Banks in Rodanthe, North Carolina, are shown in this aerial view, on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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AVALON, NC - JULY 04: People gather on the beach near heavy surf left by Hurricane Arthur, July 4, 2014 in Avalon, North Carolina. Hurricane Arthur hit North Carolina's outer banks overnight causing widespread power outages, flooding and damage, and has since weakened to a Category 1 as of Friday morning. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
RODANTHE, NC - JULY 03: Jim Sullivan of Fredericksburg Va. breaks down his campsite while his wife (L) Amy Sullivan and daughter Stephanie (2nd-L) help, at the KOA Capmground to complying with the mandatory evacuation orders for Hatteras Island, July 3, 2014 in Rodanthe, North Carolina. A Hurricane warning has been issued for North Carolina's Outer Banks due to approaching Tropical Storm Arthur that is expected to gain strength and become a category 1 hurricane before it passes the area. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
RODANTHE, NC - JULY 03: Members of the large Garrison family from Kansas City, MO., play in the surf before complying with the mandatory evacuation orders for Hatteras Island, July 3, 2014 in Rodanthe, North Carolina. A Hurricane warning has been issued for North Carolina's Outer Banks due to approaching Hurricane Arthur that has been upgraded to a category 2 hurricane. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
CAPE HATTERAS, NC - JULY 02: A sign reads campground closed at Cape Hatteres camp grounds, July 2, 2014 in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. All Cape Hatteras National Seashore camp grounds closed at noon today due to approaching Tropical Storm Arthur moving toward North Carolina's Outer Banks. Tropical Storm Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and is expected to make landfall over the Fourth of July holiday. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
RODANTHE, NC JUNE 12: Homes along the coast of Outer Banks in Rodanthe, North Carolina, are shown in this aerial view, on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
RODANTHE, NC JUNE 12: Waves lap around the stilts of a home in Rodanthe, North Carolina, on Thursday, June 12, 2014. At right, the pilings of a home jut above the waves. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NAGS HEAD, NC JUNE 12: Waves lap around the stilts of a row of condemned homes in Nags Head, North Carolina, on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MANTEO, NC JUNE 12: The Washington Baum Bridge seen in the background connects Nags Head with Manteo on Roanoke Island shown in the foreground in this aerial view of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
AVON, NC - FEBRUARY, 12: Avon Pier is, a five minute walk from a vacation home for sale on the Outer Banks, a beautiful spot to fish or walk the beach Sunday February 12, 2012. The vacation home, not pictured, at 39200 West Sunfish Court in Avon, North Carolina is offered for $295,000. Affordable vacation homes in the $300,000 range are available within easy driving distance from the district. (Photo by Cecelia Jolley, for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
OUTER BANKS, NAGS HEAD, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES - 2011/08/24: Rebuilding eroded beaches. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
OUTER BANKS, NAGS HEAD, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES - 2011/08/24: Fishing pier. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
OUTER BANKS, DUCK, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES - 2011/08/24: Sunset Grill restaurant exterior at dusk. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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Since then, about 70,000 visitors and vacationers have evacuated Hatteras and Ocracoke islands under two mandatory orders issued by Gov. Roy Cooper. Most were able to drive off Hatteras Island, which is served by the only major bridge to the islands, while the rest have slowly made their way off Ocracoke by ferry.

The electric co-op said it was exploring two possible fixes — digging up the cables and splicing them back together or building a new, above-ground transmission line.

"Depending on which solution turns out to be the most practical, the timeline for a complete repair could vary from one to two weeks," it said.

While the mandatory orders didn't apply to the few thousand year-round residents of the islands, who can rely on generators, business and government officials lamented the loss of tens of thousands of vacationers at the height of the summer tourist season.

"We realize people are disappointed. They brought a lot of stuff here. They're packing up and moving out," Dorothy Hester, a spokeswoman for Dare County, told NBC affiliate WITN of Washington. "While disappointed, they're going to make their way home."

Lisa Sturgill, general manager of the Cape Hatteras Motel in Buxton, said, "It's like having a hurricane without the bad weather."

"All of our rooms are empty," Sturgill, who said she'd had to refund all of the motel's reservations, told WRAL. "But it's just another storm. We'll get through it like we always do."

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