This is a story about resilience and hope and the spirit of the Outer Banks. Hurricane Irene began as a tragedy, yet in many ways it has become a shining example of what community means.
It was a little over a year ago when Irene took aim on the Outer Banks and swept up the middle of the sounds. No hurricane in living memory had ever taken that track, though the possibility of that happening had been discussed theoretically and it was understood that the impact would be terrible.
The reality of that terrible impact exceeded any theoretical image. There is no way to describe the horror of watching flood water seep into your living room and then continue to rise . . . or the heartbreak of losing a home that had never flooded in 50 or 60 years.
It was a strange event–the ocean side of the Outer Banks was virtually untouched, but the soundside communities, the places where everyone who lives and works here, who support our tourist industries, were devastated.
Yet from destroyed homes and flooded yards and a severed road that sealed Hatteras Island off from the rest of the world, came a spirit of “we’re in this together, and we will take care of our own.” There is a sense that there is a price to be paid for living in this paradise at the edge of a continent, and if this is the price, then so be it because we have worked hard to make this community something special.
Our visitors probably did not realize the full impact of the storm. The beaches were pristine and except for a few missing shingles the ocean side of the Outer Banks showed little evidence of Irene. The weather immediately after the storm was warm and sunny and visitors were allowed back to the northern Outer Banks within four days.
In the midst of this remarkable event the very human spirit of this community came to life. Employees–many of whom did not even have a place to live–came back to work. Some of that was certainly that you have to earn a living, but there was a very real sense that we are in the business of helping visitors enjoy the Outer Banks and if we’re serious about doing that, then we have to be available.
There was more to it than that, however. There exists an unspoken belief on the Outer Banks that we will allow no set of circumstances to defeat us; that as a community we can overcome anything.
This is a place where local government is run on a first name basis, where employers know about the families of their employees, knows where they live and know how a storm like Irene has impacted them.
I had a chance to talk to Lynette Sumner, the owner of Aqua Restaurant in Duck (amazing sound views, even better food . . . just a quick note) about how quickly she was up and running after the storm, and she said something that stuck with me. “My employees really came out,” she said. “They just worked their butts off. People . . . came through.”
That, ultimately, is the story of Irene–not the devastation, not the tragedy, but the triumph. It is a love affair we have with where we live, and the love people who live here.