Cover Story: OBX takes a beating

OUTER BANKS, NC (WBTV) - It's the road to nowhere.  The only highway on and off of Hatteras Island is gone. Shredded by Hurricane Irene.

Homes and lives are in shambles.  Soon the aftermath could impact your life.

Hurricane Irene didn't live up to the hype.

A storm that failed to be the apocalyptic, big-city disaster that Hollywood movies are made of.

But tell that to the people all up and down the Eastern seaboard who are suffering right now. And will be for months to come.

It's a trail of death and destruction from here to Canada.  At least 35 lives lost. They're still counting the dead.

Six of those in North Carolina.  Hundreds of homes are damaged or destroyed.

It will take days for FEMA to put a price tag on all of it. Hundreds of millions of dollars. Up to three billion.

More than seven million homes and businesses were without power. Many still are.

Now, zeroing in on North Carolina.  Our coastal residents have had two full days to survey their damage.

It's not pretty.

Lots of work to be done. Homes will have to be rebuilt. Power crews are working to restore electricity. And NCDOT crews have to repair roads and bridges on the inner and outer banks.

NC Highway 12 is shredded.

Irene tore it apart on Hatteras Island. Breached in five places. The storm carved new canals right where the road used to be.

Now, the only way on and off Hatteras is by boat.

This weekend could add insult to injury in the OBX.  No tourists makes a bad situation worse.

The talk among locals just a few weeks ago was about how great the summer was.  Now all they can say is they're sorry it had to end like this.

They picked this place for its beauty and it's out of the way space.  Now it's more than a little beaten up.  And way out of the way.

Cut off from civilization - at least by road.

"Oh yeah.  Now where am I going to go at 70?"

Caroll Midgett has lived on this spit of land of the Outer Banks all of his life.  Now, the road he and others on Hatteras rely on to get to the mainland is cut into pieces.

What was once NC Highway 12 is now an ocean.

"I didn't think it was this bad till I got up here. And checked my own stuff. It's bad. A lot of damage," he said.

Unlike some of the past big storms this time the Outer Banks took a direct hit.

Water from the hurricane and ocean water from the east rode over the barrier islands and filled up the sounds with some of the worst flooding ever seen.

Once the hurricane passed, water rushed back east and like a meat cleaver, took the land with it.

NC 12 was breached in five places.  Leaving behind new inlets.

"Having one portion of the road out is bad.. having five sections of it out is devastating."

Tom Crosby of AAA Carolinas remembers 2003.  Then it was Hurricane Isabel.  She cut one section out of Hatteras Island back then slicing up Highway 12, which took two months and $5 million to rebuild.

DOT is not saying how long it'll take this time.

Now any place on Hatteras near Rodanthe Beach south you won't be able to get to by road for the foreseeable future.  And people who rely on tourism are hurting.

For the upcoming Labor Day weekend, Crosby doesn't think it'll upset a huge number of Carolinians travel plans.

"No, because it's a very isolated area. And a high number of people that go to the Outer Banks are not from the Carolinas. They're from north of there. It's not a Carolina weekend destination," he said.

Gov. Perdue, who toured the area, says Highway 12 will be rebuilt.

Exposed to mother nature's fury yes but locals prefers it that way.

"I got a lot of confidence that they'll get it done. Yeah.. I think that's why a lot of people live out here. It's just to be able to get away. Get away from it. Is it worth that risk though? Definitely, definitely. I moved here 21 years ago.. it feels like I've been here for 8 weeks," said one OBX resident.

Late today the NC DOT confirmed to us there are two breaches they're most concerned about just north of Rodanthe and in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

They are bigger than those caused by previous hurricanes. The continued pounding of the surf is making them larger.

Damage to NC 12 cut off land access to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands stranding at least 2,500 people.

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