Wednesday, August 24, 2011

OBXcape


One of my favorite places on the planet is the Outer Banks, North Carolina, affectionately known as OBX. It is a chain of barrier islands stretching from the Virginia state line southward to Ocracoke Island. Towns include Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Duck, Sanderling, Avon, Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton and others. Attractions include the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Pea Island Bird Sanctuary and several lighthouses including the Cape Hatteras light.

Hurricane Irene apparently likes OBX too because that’s where she is headed for the weekend, with a predicted check-in time of mid-afternoon Saturday, just like the tourists. There is now a mandatory evacuation of all tourists (except her) (actually because of her) and a futile evac order for permanent residents, a hearty and sometimes foolish bunch who often risk riding the storm out rather than leaving.

Ocracoke Island is near the top of my list of preferred OBX haunts because it is less crowded even at the height of the season. There are no fast-food chain joints there, only local bars and restaurants, ranging from burger-and-fries places to gourmet establishments. Ocracoke is the first place to order evacuations because it is only accessible by boat. Cars use one of three ferries, the shortest of which takes 45 minutes to get to something resembling a highway; the other two take hours. Each boat holds about 50 cars, so the escape is long. There is some wind speed level at which the boats stop running.

Weather Channel anchors are a regular fixture there when storm approach. One of them is at Kill Devil Hills tonight. Jim Cantore has been there many times and one of his regular hang-out spots is the same restaurant/bar that friends of mine used for their pre-wedding party several years ago.

I’ve had OBX adventures at least twenty times since the late 1980s but only one evacuation order … for Hurricane Floyd in 1999. I got an advance phone call about the order from friends who live there but I still stayed at my rental house till the required time arrived – noon that day. Somewhere in my photo collection there are pictures of me standing on the beach in the rain pointing at the sky, an hour before my ten hour drive home (it usually takes five). I was tempted to ride that storm out but was talked out of it. I have gone through many hurricanes growing up in New Orleans, but few, if any, direct hits and never in a place with only two roads in or out (both flood-prone and including bridges).

I have much empathy and sympathy for OBX tourists and residents who have to make a decision to leave such an awesome place because a hurricane is coming. I wish them well and pray a little for the islands too.

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