SUNDAY UPDATE: Wrightsville Beach officials push back re-entry to Tuesday at earliest, continue to work to restore sewer system

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As crews continue to work to restore the Wrightsville Beach water and sewer system, Wrightsville Beach officials pushed back the target date for a return for residents to Tuesday at the earliest and Wednesday as a more likely target.

Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said that restoration of water and sewer was critical before any re-entry is allowed.

“It the big thing were trying to do,” House said. “We got it partially back and some sewage flowing, but what we have going just isn’t enough for re-entry.”

Recovery efforts were complicated by Saturday evening’s storms, which brought several inches of rain, along with powerful winds. Crews that had been ready to help restore Wrightsville Beach power had to divert to help Wilmington residents whose needs were more dire, he said.

Without restoration of the sewer system, residents who flush the toilets would create more sewage than the system could handle, pushing the overflow into the streets.

“If we can’t push sewage, it will come to the street” House said. “That’s our biggest concern.”

House said if power is out long term, town officials will do something to mitigate issues, adding that staff is working on plans that can help residents get back to their homes if power is out for an extended period of time.

Duke Power is mobilizing equipment for recovery efforts, but these crews are also dealing with blocked roads on I-40 and I-95, House said.

The sewer system can be partially powered by generators, House said, but the storm damaged some of those stationed in Wrightsville Beach. The town is looking to request additional generators and equipment from the New Hanover County Emergency Operations Center, however, town staff will need to assess the needs for power capacity before making the request.

Power restoration was crucial for re-entry since electricity was needed to power the pumps and lift stations. In an effort to get Lift Station No. 1 operational, crews developed a bypass to increase production.

“Getting all the pumps online is dependent on power,” House said. “They’re working to improvise and adapt.”

And while heavy rains pounded the region on Saturday night and Sunday morning, House said crews didn’t see any significant flooding beyond the high water mark of Friday afternoon.

While there were several lines down in Wrightsville Beach, most were to individual residents, with there being only three or four main transmission lines that needed power. However, House said that it was also dependent upon restoration of transmission lines in Wilmington, which could take more time.

House also laid out the procedure for re-entry for when residents are allowed to return. First on will be residents who have a tax decal, he said, though other residents without the decal may be able to return with other proof of residency, such as a power bill. Designated caretakers for homes will also be allowed on with residents.

Next on will be contractors who are hired by residents for restoration of residents, followed by other general contractors and finally, the general public.

And while some may try to come to the island early by way of boat, House said it was likely that anyone who did that would be arrested. Meanwhile, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said in a televised press conference that the roads to Wilmington were blocked and urged anyone who fled to other parts of the state to remain there and not try to come back until officials say the city is ready.

The town will also publish video of each of the 10 divisions of Wrightsville Beach, with those details being published on the police department’s Facebook page a www.facebook.com/WrightsvilleBeachPD.

Compared with other nearby beach communities, Wrightsville Beach fared well, House said.

“We were lucky. Our neighbors to the north and south didn’t fare as well,” House said. “The eye came over almost perfectly we didn’t get the wind and water surge. It was ideal for Wrightsville Beach.”

Several residents attended the 11 a.m. briefing at the First Citizens Bank on Eastwood Road. One asked if there could be escorted re-entry for residents who want to check the condition of their property, but House said it was unlikely that the personnel could be available for that task.

Another asked if the flooding on South Harbor Island was as bad as 1996’s Hurricane Fran.

“It’s nowhere near as bad as Fran,” he said. “In most places on Harbor Island, you could still see people’s lawn.”

The next briefing is scheduled for 4 p.m. Lumina News will have live coverage on Facebook and report the details afterwards on LuminaNews.com.

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