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Hatteras Island remains isolated even as supplies trickle in

By Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell, CNN
  • Crucial connecting highway will take at least 2 weeks to fix
  • People allowed to leave; unclear if those who left can return yet
  • Residents who stayed say, "That's part of living on a barrier island"

Stumpy Point, N.C. (CNN) -- For some 2,500 residents of Hatteras Island, N.C., stranded after Hurricane Irene, vital supplies and services are steadily coming in.

But the island remains isolated. Ferry traffic increased Tuesday to the island from Stumpy Point, N.C., about 16 miles west of Hatteras across Pamlico Sound. At least seven vessels, using two routes to the island, shuttled material and personnel to Hatteras Island on Tuesday, according to North Carolina's Department of Emergency Management.

"Today we sent two big generators that can pretty much power the entire island," said Jed Dixon of the North Carolina Ferry Division. Ferry service started Sunday night, with vessels carrying emergency response personnel, food, water, highway repair equipment, electrical repair trucks, ice trucks and other vehicles.

Stranded residents and others who wished to leave Hatteras Island since the storm were allowed onto the return ferries, but it was unclear whether residents who had evacuated prior to the storm were being allowed back yet.

The storm washed out a critical stretch of Highway 12, a road that runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean and connects Hatteras Island to the other barrier islands on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Causeways from those barrier islands connect them to North Carolina's mainland.

The broken stretch of Highway 12, located in the town of Rodanthe, looks as if an earthquake and a hurricane hit it. A CNN crew was able to get there only by flying in on two North Carolina National Guard helicopters on a damage assessment mission. The team found that the road had been hacked off in several places by Irene and had caved in, with downed power lines strewn about and a strong current from the ocean running over it. Officials and local residents estimate it will take at least two weeks to repair the highway.

The 2,500 people on Hatteras during and immediately after Hurricane Irene had ignored mandatory evacuation orders.

When the CNN team landed on the island, they asked local residents why they elected to remain after several stern warnings from state officials.

"That's part of living on a barrier island. I mean it's like asking people in California, why do you live there on a fault?" said Abby Midgett, a handyman company owner who has lived on Hatteras Island his entire life.

Kevin Williams, who works for the state ferry system and has lived on Hatteras Island for 37 years, said "... we grew up here. The main thing is gettin' back. You know when you're gone, you know you're wondering what -- your belongings, your property. You're wondering how it is, you know. It's your whole life here, so it's kind of hard to leave."