EMERALD ISLE — As portions of North Carolina’s Outer Banks remain without power forcing visitors to find lodging elsewhere, towns along the Crystal Coast are illuminating the “Vacancy” and “Welcome” signs catching an unexpected windfall on top of an already busy season.

“We booked 24 new reservations between last Friday and Saturday from families who had vacation plans for Ocracoke, Avon and Hatteras,” Emerald Isle Realty Reservation Sales Manager Katrina Brienza said Tuesday afternoon from the firm’s lobby of Emerald Drive in Emerald Isle.

The island real estate company and vacation rental property business manages 625 units throughout Bogue Banks and along the Intracoastal Waterway.

‘These folks were displaced and we were able to find them houses,” Brienza said.

The Outer Banks towns of Hatteras and Ocracoke lost power when a PCL Construction crew driving steel casings into the ground at a job site on the Bonner Bridge damaged underground transmission cables that provided electricity to the islands. Local officials ordered mandatory evacuations for non-residents. Of the two cables damaged, one has been repaired while the final one is expected to be fixed within six to 10 days.

Many harried vacationers wishing to unplug and unwind with a week of fun and sun on the beach and undeterred by a power outage, set their sights on the beaches and communities from Beaufort to North Topsail Beach.

Greater Topsail Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chuck Strickland began seeing wayward tourists seeking any sort of lodging including members of his family who had reservations in the Outer Banks.

“We’ve had a few calls and the traffic here in the visitor’s center has increased since the weekend,” Strickland said.

In Carteret County, The Beaufort Inn received calls from travelers looking for alternative lodging.

“We helped a guy from Wilmington who was planning to stay in Ocracoke this weekend and instead will be staying here for the weekend,” Samantha Taylor, a front desk associate at the inn said.

Inland visitor centers in communities such as Havelock and Kinston reported no inquiries from dislodged tourists. Ruby McAllister, assistant general manager of the Hampton Inn in Havelock said “we haven’t had any so far.”

Lucy Marston, director of the Kinston Lenoir County Information and Visitors Center hasn’t encountered any people displaced from the Outer Banks but did speak with several folks upon her arrival to the visitors center last Friday who were gathering maps and other collateral before they continued to the Outer Banks. Marston informed them of the developing situation on the islands.

“I told them they won’t be able to get on the island. They looked at me as if I was crazy but I listen to the news when I get ready in the morning. It’s amazing what you learn,” Marston said.

At the New Bern- Craven County Convention and Visitors Center, visitor and sales associate Taylor Shannon assisted a party who had come from the Outer Banks.

"They came in yesterday and they were able to find a room at the Bridgepointe Hotel and Marina,” Shannon said Tuesday.

At the Carteret County Tourism Bureau on Emerald Isle Betty Moynahan and Sharon Fulcher between them helped a party of 13 and a group of eight on Monday.

“The party of eight was a family who eventually got a place in Atlantic Beach,” Moynahan said.

Coastal residents who endure weather hardships when natural disasters such as hurricanes, nor’easters or even tornados strike have taken pause over the electrical outage with their neighbors up the coast.

 The islands of Ocracoke and Hatteras are serviced by one utility: Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative. The five towns that make up Bogue Banks — Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Salter Path, Indian Beach and Emerald Isle — are serviced by two utility companies: Duke Progress Energy and Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative making an economic disaster and inconvenience that’s currently unfolding in the Outer Banks less severe it were to occur.

Electrical power is delivered to Emerald Isle on overhead power lines that parallel the N.C. 58 high-rise bridge connecting Cape Carteret and Emerald Isle, according to Lisa Galizia, public information officer with CCEC, which was asked for assistance by CHEC.

“Our coverage area extends through the island beginning at Emerald Isle and to the east end of Pine Knoll Shores. Our power lines are built to be more robust to withstand the strength from storms and the effects of the salt air,” Galizia said.

 

Daily News Regional Reporter Mike McHugh can be reached at 910-219-8455 or email mike.mchugh@jdnews.com.