More than 200 homes in Ocracoke could be hoisted high above ground following last year’s record flooding from Hurricane Dorian.
It will change the traditional look of the tourist community, but officials said it must be done as disastrous storms become more frequent.
“There’s no viable choice except to elevate these homes,” said Ocracoke resident and Hyde County commissioner Tom Pahl.
Thanks to insurance payouts, about 35 houses already have been jacked up on tall pilings or are in the process, he said.
Another 207 homes are on a list to get grant money that would pay for the job. Over the next few years, nearly one in three older homes in the community could be raised onto pilings.
About 400 other homes are newer and already on pilings, Pahl said. Most of those are rental properties.
Lifting some 240 houses in one small community is an astounding number. In Dare County, 100 houses were raised between 1997 and 2017, according to county statistics reported in The Virginian-Pilot The cost to raise a house in Dare County, which also has many flood prone areas, ranged from $55,000 to $225,000.
“When I walk around, it takes some getting used to,” said Amy Howard, whose family has lived on Ocracoke for generations.
Howard manages Village Craftsmen, one of many shops in the community that depend on tourism. She is documenting the village street by street on Facebook. Many memorable homes and buildings are now gone and others will be lifted or changed by renovations, she said.
“As time passes, you can forget,” she said.
The house where she and her husband live is on the list for elevating, as is her father’s, she said. She is not certain if they will raise their shop. It would need a much higher and longer ramp to meet handicap requirements, among other expensive improvements.
Businesses are not eligible for the same grants as homes, Pahl said.
Dorian pushed the Pamlico Sound over the island last September, with waters rising up to seven feet. It was the most ever recorded, blowing past the previous mark set three years earlier by Hurricane Matthew
Hurricane Alex in 2004 had been the worst before that.
“This feels like a bad trend,” Pahl said.
Ocracoke closed down after Dorian as residents and shop owners made repairs. Then as the upcoming tourist season was about to get going, the coronavirus struck. Ocracoke allowed non-resident property owners on the island to continue repairs on their storm damaged homes, he said.
Some property owners whose houses were not damaged opened them to about 400 locals left homeless after the storm, Pahl said.
It is unclear when or even if the homes will actually be raised. The funding in question comes from a variety of grants and is not guaranteed, said Hyde County spokesman Donnie Shumate. The county is still working on grant-funded projects from hurricanes Florence and Matthew, he said.
Grant money leftover from earlier hurricanes could be used to help lift homes flooded by Dorian, he said.
“This is not a fast process and it can take years to receive the funding,” he said.
Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, firstname.lastname@example.org