Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let Me Tell You About the 4th of July Hurricane

It has been a wonderful time here at Ocean Waves Campground. We've been here through multiple personnel changes, through multiple schedule changes, through spring, summer and fall. The biggest challenge was riding out Hurricane Arthur over the fourth of July.

I touched on some of the circumstances in a previous post, but let me share more of the story.

The Bullock Family own Ocean Waves Campground, Carolyn and Clyde and Barbara. Carolyn and Clyde are husband and wife, Barbara is their daughter. Also employed at the campground is Cole, Barbara's son. And at the start of the season, there were two couples and a single person employed as work campers. Seven people to share all responsibilities of the day to day needs in the campground, with Carolyn and Clyde to help if need be. They are, after all, supposed to be retired :)

In June, Carolyn and Clyde left for a cross country trip, which was to culminate in the Pacific northwest, where they would meet up with other family members and cruise to Alaska. This was a very special trip for them, as it was their first ever summer vacation, in thirty years. School was out, families were headed to the beach. When they left, the campground was approaching capacity. We expected to be busy, but thought everything was under control. We forgot about our inability to control the weather.

Arthur began forming around June 28. As you can tell by his initial, Arthur was the first tropical storm, then hurricane, of the 2014 season. He was still fairly far out in the Atlantic on July 1, when Dave and LoVancey, the other work camping couple decided they were leaving. (And, by the way, not coming back.) So, we were five: Barbara, Cole, PK, Raymond and me. We readjusted the bathroom cleaning schedule, and went on about our business.

We watched the weather channel. That was less than helpful, mostly because the hurricane specialists had several models and no one agreed on which model would be the most accurate. Slowly, at first, some campers decided to cut their vacations short. People trickled out. Then, as we drew closer to the holiday weekend, more folks left, especially after Dare County officials began talking about voluntary evacuations on Wednesday. On Thursday morning Dare County issued mandatory evacuations and  PK left. Then we were four. [A couple of side notes: Mandatory evacuations apparently do NOT mean you must leave. PK left out of concern for her personal safety, as her trailer is very tiny and lightweight, and she agonized over her decision. And she planned to return.] Most of our campers left with the mandatory evacuation, but we had some who choose to stay. 

Raymond and I discussed the pros and cons of evacuation,along with our responsibilities. In the end, we decided to stay and ride out the storm, mostly because we didn't want to leave Barbara and Cole with the burden of clean up, once the hurricane had passed.

In the meantime, the skies before the storm were beautiful.

Sky before the storm

We moved our motorhome from the "worker's village" area at the front of the campground, closest to Highway 12, to the area closer toward the dunes, which is slightly higher ground. One of the families who stayed, decided to remain on their campsite in the middle of the campground. Barbara and Cole also stayed put. The site we moved to was an enclave of campers who were riding out the storm.

In very late afternoon, or early evening, Arthur became upgraded to a Category 2 hurricane. Several of the campers who had decided to stay, choose to leave then, but left their trailers and in some case their extra vehicles on their campsites.

The rain started. The wind blew. We filled our freshwater tank and refrained from dumping our black and grey water in order to add some weight to our rig. We pulled in our slide and awning. The wind picked up speed. The rain poured down. We watched the weather channel. For hours we sat, listening to the wind and rain. The sustained wind was bad, but the gusts were frightening, as they rocked the RV. I prayed for everyone to be safe.

Around 11pm, the hurricane hit the Shackelford Banks, about 100 miles southwest of us. Arthur then spent some time in Pamlico Sound, touching parts of Hyde and Dare counties on the mainland, before crossing over the Outer Banks around 4:30 AM on the fourth of July. 

The storm surge came from the Sound. It was fast and furious.  At the high ground of our location, it was deep enough to breach our motorhome and enter our stairwell. We sat watching, as the water climbed our stairs. Thank God, it stop before breaching the top step. 

As we watched it recede, we felt relief. We were fortunate that Arthur hit when the tide was in between low and high. 

Still, we had no idea how much damage there was. It was pitch dark outside. The water had reached its peak, but was receding slowly. We had been awake for approximately 22 hours. The wind was still blowing, but as our adrenaline receded with the surge, we napped until daylight. 

Around 7 AM we ventured out. The water had diminished to about six inches in most places. Our little Chevy Spark had been inundated. Water levels had been over the front seats and the cup holders were full of sound water, as were our floor mats and carpets. The campground was a soggy mess, and there was brush, broken limbs, and assorted junk everywhere. The force of the surge had moved all three campground dumpsters. One had come to rest upon a partially destroyed picnic bench. Another had moved east and north of its original location, near the beach path. But the most dramatic, to me, was the one that had been turned, carried along the tree line, behind the bathhouse closest to the beach, and came to rest directly behind our RV, just inches from our hitch! Remember my prayers for everyone's safety? Yep, God heard and answered! 

Where the dumpster stopped behind our RV

Yucky sound water in our little car

When we walked through the campground, we knew we had some hard work ahead of us. The bathhouses had been flooded and the ebbing water had left mud, dirt and the stench of the Sound. Picnic tables were deposited in some odd places by the rushing water. Propane tanks, too. And freezers and small refrigerators. All sorts of flotsam was discovered as the cleanup began. Lamps. Outdoor furniture. Feral cats. Water logged doves. Dead fish. Assorted garbage cans. The Ocean Waves Campground sign from atop the office, had been blown down. Some shingles were lost from the office, the bathhouses and C&C's house. 

Poor soggy dove

Sky over Pamlico Sound, after the storm
Sky over the ocean, after the storm

The campers who stayed were wonderful about pitching in to help with the clean up. Because of the storm surge, and the flood water which moved the storage shed off it's foundation, and left havoc in Clyde and Carolyn's garage, many power tools that could've aided in the clean up, were destroyed. 

The campground owners took a huge personal hit. In addition to the damage to their roof, soffit, and fascia, and tools in the storage shed, they lost several vehicles, motorcycles, refrigerator, freezers, TV, furniture, personal tools, three golf carts, and  probably, lots of things of which I am unaware. They also lost their first summer vacation in thirty years. 

Carolyn and Clyde were in Wyoming when the hurricane hit us. Everyone tried to talk them into continuing west and going on the Alaska cruise. They chose to return to NC, in spite of the cruise line insisting they had a 'No Refund' policy.   

There was some damage to trailers left behind when the owners decided on late evacuation. One of them had twisted supports. Obviously, some of the electrical posts were damaged by the salt water. That was an ongoing issue for Cole throughout July. Some of the posts worked fine and checked out OK, but would fail later in the month, as the salt water worked its corrosiveness.

Barbara and Cole were both rocks through all of the turmoil. They worked tirelessly, from sunup to sundown, for the whole time it took to put things right. The swimming pool, all by itself, took about a week. The surge had deposited so much sludge and debris in the pool, that it took three guys working on it a full week to get it safe and pristine.

 The pool after the storm

The pool one week after the storm

When Dare County officials reopened the Bonner Bridge to southbound traffic at 4PM on July 5th, we were still in the midst of clean up. It had been less than 36 hours since the storm surge. Many of the campers who had reservations at two neighboring campgrounds, came onto the Island without confirming their reservations after the storm. I guess they figured that if they could drive down here, everyone must be open for business. That was not the case.

Ray and I had spent all our time from mid-morning through early evening cleaning bathhouses. In the early AM we had helped clear debris from the concrete camping pads. All the junk from each campsite had been piled at the end of the site, in the grass, to facilitate ease of pick up. As I was working in one of the bathhouses, I saw a camper picking up the piles of debris and throwing it behind the site, into the tree line. I went up to her and asked that she please not do that. I explained that we had spent the morning clearing the sites and the piles were there for easy pick up by the cart, for disposal. She became very angry as she informed me that she "needs all the grass cleared". As I began to explain, yet again, why the debris was where it was, the camper at the next site came out of her trailer and yelled at me, "I don't have any electricity!" She then proceeded to question why everything was, "such a mess". I explained, (with steam coming out of my ears, I'm sure) that we had been hit by a hurricane just one day previous. She stomped away. Later, Cole discovered that her electrical problem was caused by her failure to hit the 50 amp switch. These two New Jersey residents had originally had reservations at one of the neighboring campgrounds, NOT with us.  When they found their campground still closed, we made room for them. How could they be so clueless?

Yet, in contrast to these rude folks, most people returning were kind, supportive and eager to do what they could to help.  

Ocean Waves Campground is a family operation. It was built and has been owned by the Bullocks for nearly 30 years. They live onsite. But, it is "family" in other ways that really count. Many of the campers return year after year. They become friends and look forward to reuniting with other campers. These were the people who came in after the storm and helped with clean up, even though they were on vacation. These were the people who called before they came to see if we needed them to bring anything to help with the clean up - like a power washer, because the campground's had gotten flooded. These are the people who make working at the campground pleasant, even in tough circumstances.

Riding out a hurricane on a barrier island is not something I would recommend. I am grateful that we were safe. I am grateful all we lost was a car. I am grateful for all I learned. Would I do it again? Doubtful. I think if I heard Category 2, I would leave the Island. But, who knows? Like Brody says is Jaws, "It's only an island if you look at it from the water."   


  1. A well written post, and suspenseful. I think I would have been one of the workampers that evacuated inland, but later came back to help clean up. Watching the water rise in the stairwell would have scared me to death.

    1. Thank you, Judith. We seriously considered leaving, but were concerned that if the road was damaged, or closed for any length of time, we wouldn't be able to get back on the island. Plus we felt an obligation to not leave Barbara and Cole without back up. Really not sure what I will do if the situation comes up again.

  2. Rode out a Category 3 (Alicia in Houston) in a sticks and bricks. . .not something we would EVER do in a RV. . .ever. . .just not safe!

    Thankful you guys made it through okay. . .