With Outer Banks power restored, focus turns to the future

Rep. Beverly Boswell says plenty of blame to go around

At the Avon substation, crews install switchgear so generators can sync together and power an entire substation. (North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives)

RALEIGH — Power was restored to Hatteras and Okracoke islands Thursday, one week after PCL Civil Constructors severed two underwater power cables during construction of the new Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks.

The power outage led to a mandatory evacuation of visitors south of Oregon Inlet, including the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras, and Okracoke Island, shutting down some of North Carolina’s most popular summer tourism destinations during its peak season.

More than 50,000 tourists were evacuated, and this week’s travelers were prevented from visiting during the outage. Many were without travel insurance, left to question leasing companies about refunds that may never come.

Meanwhile, residents of region — many of whom work in the tourism industry — waited for electricity to return so businesses could again earn money and try to make up for lost income.

“It’s going to be millions [in losses]. … They depend on this summer business to get them through the year,” said Rep. Beverly Boswell, who represents affected Dare and Hyde counties, along with Washington County and part of Beaufort County, Thursday before power was restored.

Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative announced later Thursday that the evacuation order would be lifted and visitors could return starting noon on Friday, a day before next week’s renters begin the weekly pilgrimage to the southern Outer Banks.

With power turned back on, focus will now turn to determining how the outage occurred —Boswell called it a collective breakdown — and what can be done to avoid it from happening in the future.

“I don’t think it was PCL’s total responsibility,” Boswell said. “I think it was all of them: the coop, PCL and N.C. DOT. Who has a project of this magnitude and not have backup splice kits?”

Boswell said she had productive conversations with N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey on how a crippling economic disaster like this could be avoided in the future.

“We need to protect the consumers,” she said. “And we need those businesses.”

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