While Wrightsville Beach officials on Saturday said that the worst of the damage from Hurricane Florence was over, the recovery process was seeing some setbacks, though its unclear if these will delay the target for return by residents.
The priority for Wrightsville Beach public works crews was to get lift station no. 1 back online, town manager Tim Owens said, though the process was delayed today when a generator used to power the station exploded.
“Restoring the lift station is our most crucial priority,” Owens said.
Restoring the water and sewer system was one of the necessities before residents can be allowed to return, which Wrightsville Beach officials said would be no earlier than Monday, if not delayed to “early next week.”
On Saturday, Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said that overall, the town had been spared the catastrophic damage feared when Hurricane Florence was a Category 4 storm that was barreling towards Cape Fear.
“We are out of the worst part,” House said on Saturday morning. “We think we’re in a very good place, we were very lucky. The eye passed over the right place at the right time. There were some tree limbs down, but we didn’t have the level of debris we normally have.”
The main priorities for officials and crews were to open the public safety building, open the public works department and check all pumps and wells, House said on Saturday.
There was some water damage to the public safety building, House said, and crews had been called into help clear out the water. The building’s generator was up and running, he said, and other systems were also being brought online.
Crews were working on Saturday to restore the water and sewer system, and by the afternoon had started putting water back into the system, Owens said.
Another priority for crews was to restore the gasoline pumps at the public works facility, which would allow police and other patrol crews to refuel. House said that fuel for vehicles had become a concern for Wrightsville Beach police.
Lift station No. 1 is a priority because it carries sewage off the island. The tank at the station was drained and filled with water, House said, though there was an issue with the coupler to the pump.
Crews working on the island had numerous issues to face. For example, scores of shingles had blown off roofs, each with nails that can puncture tires. House said he found himself in this predicament. Debris such as this is another reason crews need time to prepare the town for residents re-entry, House said.
After the generator exploded on Saturday, Owens said the town is putting together a list of needs for the New Hanover County Emergency Operations Center, which will include more generators and pumps for the water system.
While restoring sewer was a priority, restoration of power wasn’t necessarily crucial before residents could return, House said. However, it was vital to make sure that power lines weren’t down before allowing residents to return. Even if electricity wasn’t flowing into the downed wires from transmission lines, generators connected to the system can still feed electricity into it, making these downed lines still potentially hazardous.
However, as of Saturday, Wrightsville Beach officials said they were optimistic that power could be restored soon. Owens said that inspections of the island produced a list “a page-and-a-half long” of downed power lines. However, most were lines that connected individual houses to the main transmission lines.
Duke Power crews will have to restore the areas main transmission lines before power can be restored, but Owens said that those lines are the first priority for utility workers.
Crews have also checked on the Wrightsville Beach School and discovered flooding around the building, but have been unable to determine whether the waters breached the school, as it has a riser of a few feet to elevate it.
“If it was impacted, we don’t know how much,” House said.
A dozen or so residents have stayed behind and many have come out to greet police as they patrol, House said.
One of the buildings to be most affected by the winds was the town’s parks and recreation building, where the roof had peeled off. House said that several houses had minor structural damage, mainly consisting of lost roofing shingles, gutters and siding.
In other hurricane related news:
- Two sailboats that remained moored in Banks Channel have disappeared. Officials said one of them, which was believed to be used as a vacation rental, had partially sunk on the first night of the storm and was believed to be now fully submerged. Another sailboat moored next to it was discovered missing on Saturday morning, as officials said they don’t know if it sank, was moved or broke free from its anchorage and drifted.
- At least four firetrucks sped onto Wrightsville Beach at about 5 p.m. on Saturday, responding to a call on Marina Street. The call was a false alarm, officials said, likely spurred by smoke that is produced after restarting an air conditioning unit powered by a generator.
- A Wrightsville Beach police SUV was towed off on Saturday after it wouldn’t start.