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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Hit hard by Hurricane Dorian, Port City Proud brings relief, lessons from Florence to Ocracoke

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When Hurricane Dorian skirted by Wilmington two weeks ago, the once-powerful hurricane only scraped the Wilmington area, sparing locals the kind of impact that Hurricane Florence showed last year. But the storm’s path did hit some of North Carolina’s barrier islands, including Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks.

Now, those suffering from the flooding and damage that Dorian brought to that island of less than 1,000 residents are getting help from a Wrightsville Beach-based organization that is bringing some of the lessons of Hurricane Florence to the Outer Banks.

The organizers of Port City Proud, which worked for months after Florence clearing debris for free for their neighbors, traveled to Ocracoke last weekend and will be making more relief trips in the coming weeks.

“It didn’t look much different than Wilmington did after Florence,” said organizer Jess Miller, who described street after street filled with debris from people’s homes. “Everybody’s everything was on the side of the road due to flooding.  Bedding, photo albums, kids toys. People weren’t saving anything, even things that could have been salvaged. They were feeling hopeless.”

Days after Hurricane Florence completed its slow churn over Wilmington, a group of experienced chainsaw operators got together to form Port City Proud with the mission of clearing out yards littered with fallen trees and limbs, while raising funds along the way.

But the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian is providing a different challenge for Port City Proud. The storm’s winds weren’t as powerful, and didn’t bring down trees and branches like Florence did, Miller said. However, the storm surge created several feet of flooding. More than 500 cars were declared totaled from the flooding, and more than 400 houses still don’t have power, she said.

“The people there told us that within an hour, the water raised several feet. Everything was underwater and some of them contemplated going to the attic or the roof to wait out the storm,” Miller said. “Restaurants had all their tables and chairs sitting out. Hotels had piles and piles of mattresses.”

So instead of chainsawing limbs, most of the volunteers were helping clearing insulation and other rotten fixtures from houses, rather than cutting broken tree limbs, she said.

“It is different this time,” Miller said. “There’s not as many trees to work on, so we’ve brought supplies and did work ripping out insulation and clearing out sheds and garages.”

Building on the fundraising and disaster relief knowledge the organization developed last year, Miller said that volunteers with Port City Proud would be collecting needed materials in Wilmington and transport them to Ocracoke over the next few weeks.

“We feel like the capabilities we have, and what we learned from Florence last year, there’s a difference we can make,” Miller said.

To help Ocracoke, Port City Proud is seeking a variety of donations, with gift cards and tools being a priority. Miller said that gift cards of any type can be left at Jimmy’s Wrightsville Beach at 5 N. Lumina Ave. 

Sammy Flowers, the owner of Eagle Island Seafood and Produce at  2500 US-421 in Wilmington, donated several boxes of fresh produce, which was well received from the locals, she said. 

“People were screaming for fresh produce,” said Miller, adding that Eagle Island would be sending another shipment of produce this weekend. “It was a huge hit. People were extremely thankful to see us with some fresh food.”

Other donations can be made through the organization’s GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/port-city-proud or through contacting the owners at Facebook.com/portcityproud.nc or Instagram.com/port.city.proud.

The group is also going to host a fundraiser at the Triangle Lounge on Oct. 26.

While the recovery for Ocracoke may be long, like it has been in Wilmington, Port City Proud organizer Tegan Harmon said that the biggest issue for Ocracoke residents will likely emerge weeks after the storm.

“The big problem isn’t going to be pulling everything out, but instead, putting it back in,” said Harmon, noting that installation of new appliances, as well as home repairs, are going to be difficult on the remote island that’s only reachable by boat or ferry. “Even if they can afford to pay for it, there’s not going to be anyone there to do the work.”

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