Halted ferry service strands Ocracoke residents


State transportation officials suspended all ferry service to Ocracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks on Saturday, leaving hundreds of residents and guests no way to reach higher ground as Hurricane Sandy threatened the coast with heavy winds and rain.

Also, more than a dozen people were stranded on an isolated barrier island with no way to get off after private ferry service was halted.

Hyde County manager Mazie Smith said in a statement that unsafe travel conditions and flooding on N.C. 12 — the main artery for traffic on the Outer Banks — forced the county to suspend emergency ground transportation. Residents were told to take additional precautions when the storm got close.

"Our biggest concern obviously is the length of time the storm may sit on our coastline and how well the temporary bridge on Hatteras Island will hold up," Smith said.

The N.C. Department of Transportation suspended ferry service to Ocracoke Island, leaving residents and visitors without access to the mainland or to Hatteras Island, which is about 50 miles south of Nags Head.

The route from the south end of Hatteras Island was suspended due to high water covering N.C. 12. The Cedar Island-Ocracoke run was also suspended, and the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke ferry made its last run at 4 p.m.

Other ferries on the coast halted service as conditions got worse.

Hyde County was one of four counties to declare states of emergency ahead of the storm. Gov. Beverly Perdue on Friday declared a state of emergency for 40 counties east of Interstate 95.

The 11 p.m. Saturday advisory from the National Hurricane Center placed the center of Sandy about 360 miles east-southeast of Charleston, S.C. A tropical storm warning remained in effect from the South Santee River in South Carolina to Duck, N.C., including the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds. A tropical storm watch was lifted for the S.C. coast south of the South Santee River.

Sandy was moving to the northeast at 14 mph, along a path parallel to the southeastern U.S. It's expected to approach the Mid-Atlantic states late Monday. Light rain in the morning turned into steady rains whipped by gusting winds Saturday evening.

South of Ocracoke, a group of people was forced to wait out the storm on Portsmouth Island, a former fishing village that is now uninhabited and accessible only by private ferry.

"We tried to get off the island and the ferry service shut down on us," said Bill Rowley, 49, of Rocky Mount, N.C., adding that there were about 20 people on the island.

Rowley said he could see 15-foot seas breaking over the island's dunes, enough to bring water to the island's interior.

"We'll be inundated and it'll probably be worse tomorrow," he said.

Rowley said the U.S. Coast Guard was to bring supplies to the people riding out the storm, adding that the group is making the best of their situation.

"Everybody here that I've talked to, tomorrow night, we're having a fish fry," Rowley said.

"What are you going to do, cry about it? You can't. It's all good," he said.

At least one person shared Rowley's sentiment

"We might not get off here until Tuesday or Wednesday, which doesn't hurt my feelings that much because the fishing's going to be really good after this storm," said Warren Ellis, 44, of Amissville, Va. "It's always good after a storm."

Ellis was stranded because conditions prevented the ferry from carrying him inland. While he decided to stay in his 10-foot camper, his 73-year-old father took his larger camper off Portsmouth Island and retreated to the Coast Guard station at Cape Hatteras.

"This is my first taste of this," said Keith Paquin, 51, of Burton, Ohio, as he, Steven Ellis and his son Andrew disassembled the few fishing rod-and-reel sets they hoped might still land fish. "We're going far enough north that we can't get trapped."

Todd Butler, 44, rushed down from his home in Virginia Beach, Va., to tie down his 48-foot charter fishing boat at its dock in Hatteras. That done, he was returning home on Saturday.

"I was talking to some old fishermen this morning," he said. "I don't think it's going to be that bad." But better to take precautions and secure a boat too big to pull out of the water.

Retirees Larry, 72, and Jean Collier, 71, of Brantford, Ontario, were leaving their beachfront hotel in Kill Devil Hills and trying to plot their coming days of returning home, knowing they risked driving into a developing superstorm as they headed north through Pennsylvania.

"I'll try to split (the trip) right down the middle, not too close to Washington, not too far west," Larry Collier said. "The storm has kind of put a wrench in it."

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