Bald Head is slowly recovering from its visit by Hurricane Florence. The record storm that dumped more than 8 TRILLION gallons of water overall left the Island immediately uninhabitable with severe flooding, downed trees, no power, sewage or water and displaced wildlife.
The Island had a mandatory evacuation on September 12th and reopened 20 days later on October 1st. Florence arrived September 14th but, because the Coast Guard closed the Cape Fear River, the first responders could not get back to Bald Head until the 17th. With flood waters up to the beds of the pick-ups carrying first responders, roads like Lighthouse Wynd crumbling into large sinkholes and roaming alligators, it took the better part of the first morning on-Island to get to the Public Safety Building to set up the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Carl Pearson, BHI’s Public Safety Chief, became Incident Commander, running emergency response teams. “My daily bywords were-Nobody Gets Hurt,” shared Pearson. To that end, only paid professionals were used in initial emergency efforts.
“The cooperation and teamwork among Village Staff, BHI Transportation, Island Contracting and all the other Island entities was remarkable and gratifying, making a very difficult situation manageable,” noted Mayor Andy Sayre. Workers from the Island’s Public Safety, Utilities Department, Public Works, Village Administration, the National Guard and key private BHI companies met each morning to share observations, strategize and literally map out the day’s projects. Then they each went to their tasks-sometimes in dump trucks, sometimes in backhoes and sometimes paddling.
“Our first job was to assess, but also to do what we had to in order to be able to access areas,” shared Pearson. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible at many spots on BHI early on. Getting pumps operating were the next priority, with debris removal happening simultaneously or quickly thereafter. From there, reinstating power, water/sewage, and, of course, coordination with utilities, internet/cable companies, governmental agencies, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, BHI Transportation and North Carolina Wildlife (to name a few) as well as communicating with property owners became daily assignments.
While those off the Island anxiously awaited word on their homes and when they could return, the workers on Bald Head took the 7 AM ferry over and the 5PM boat back day after day- facing dangerous debris, putrid flood waters, droves of mosquitoes, mold, erratic wildlife and humidity as well as frequent unforeseen challenges.
Despite the circumstances, Mayor Sayre – who worked each day on the team- reported, “The camaraderie that developed helped the operations move extremely smoothly”.
On September 29th, fifteen days after Florence began to wreak her havoc, the Island was deemed safe enough to allow homeowners to return for the day to check their property. Gene Douglas, Bald Head property owner for 44 years, was heard to remark that he had NEVER seen this much water on the Island. On Monday, October 1st, the State of Emergency was lifted and the Island was open for everyone.
Still, Bald Head is currently not the idyllic setting to which we are accustomed. Some roads remain flooded or impassable due to debris. Sand-piled Wynds make golf cart-driving more challenging. Many homes require repairs. While power, water, sewage and internet are on-some TV providers are not. Many businesses and restaurants remain closed, while some have forged onward and braved re-opening. The Maritime Market and Mojo’s on the Harbour have already reopened. Despite challenges, the BHI club should have the swimming pool, Peli, one tennis court, the Pro shop, and gym opened back up today. Several shops, such as Antique Maps & More and All About Art have re-opened on Merchant’s Row as well. We got word today that Harper will be getting Delphina’s and Sandpiper reopened today or tomorrow with limited menu items! It is encouraging to see so many BHI-natives working hard to get us back to normal.
Annual October events: Pink Weekend &
Roast and Toast on the Coast are cancelled.
Yet, if you are a hearty soul seeking quiet, beautiful sunsets and good fishing…this might be the time for an Island getaway.
What’s next in store for Bald Head? Pumping will continue round the clock until normality returns. The Island has engaged Brunswick County for debris removal and the county has already begun implementing a mosquito spraying schedule. Insurance assessors are beginning their daunting task of identifying damages and contractors have started repairing and rebuilding.
This Friday, October 5th, the Village Chapel held a service at noon to offer thanksgiving for the blessings received…no fatalities, no one badly hurt, repairable damages and services of dedicated folks like Chief Pearson, Mayor Sayre, Village Manager McCall and their teams who worked days on end to recover our lives even when theirs had also been disrupted.
It will take time for the Island and its people to restore this special place we call Bald Head, but time will not lead us to forget the storm called Florence.
WWP Staff eagerly back to work!
Some of WWP’s first Staff over.
Working side by side with the big equipment.
Mold and mildew removal a top priority!
And despite everything the Island is still beautiful!