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Hurricane Dorian's Impact Spread Widely, Still Developing

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Officials are still in the early stages of understanding the extent of Hurricane Dorian's effects, but as far as the U.S. is concerned, the prevailing sense is one of relief.

Hurricane Dorian's Impact Spread Widely, Still Developing
Hurricane Dorian as seen from the International Space Station on Sept. 2, 2019

The only place where Dorian made landfall in the continental U.S. was Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. 

The island of Ocracoke, just a few miles to the southwest of Cape Hatteras, seemed to suffer the most damage, with large parts still flooded and expecting to wait for days until power is restored, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference Saturday.

The Inn at Pamlico Sound, just a mile away from the cape, suffered only damage to external structures such as its dock, aside from "maybe a shingle or two" coming off the main building's roof, Lodging Manager Melissa Anderson said.

“We’ve been really lucky and blessed, considering how bad it hit other parts of [the Outer Banks],” Anderson told Bisnow on Monday morning.

Several hotels' main phone lines, when a Bisnow reporter called Monday, appeared to be disconnected or out of service. Power is slowly being restored to the hundreds of thousands who lost it in southeast North Carolina, and nearly 500,000 suffered outages in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, where Dorian made its final landfall on Sunday before dissipating over the North Atlantic.

It will be days until any overall picture of the damage figure can be formulated, a representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency told Bisnow. But even where the damage was minimal, Dorian caused large-scale disruption.

The National Hurricane Center has received early reports of tropical storm conditions affecting the east coast of Florida, with some beach erosion and storm surge, while parts of Georgia and South Carolina experienced some wind and rainfall flood damage. Even such areas that did see effects can call Dorian a near miss, considering the devastation it has wrought on the Bahamas. 

The death count from the storm in the Bahamas reached 44 by Monday, NBC News reports, but that count is expected to rise as Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands were mostly reduced to rubble.

The archipelago nation's largest city, Nassau, escaped largely unscathed, as did most of its resorts and hotels, the Associated Press reports. But Grand Bahama and the Abacos have a combined 3,000 hotel rooms, or 19% of the country's inventory, according to the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

All hotels on the affected islands are closed, their futures in doubt. But the other 13,000 rooms are open, and the Bahamian government has said they are ready and eager to do business.

“One of the best ways that people around the world can show their support and solidarity ... is to visit our other islands by air or by cruise ship,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Friday, according to the AP.

Hurricane Dorian's Impact Spread Widely, Still Developing
Congestion built up severely along I-45 as Texans evacuated ahead of Hurricane Rita in 2005.

State and local governments from every state between Florida and Virginia ordered some level of mandatory evacuation. In southeast Georgia and the Charleston area of South Carolina, evacuation was ordered as early as the Sunday before Labor Day.

Some of the evacuations proved to be unnecessary, but early action was a result of how unpredictable Dorian's path had been to that point.

“The thing to remember is that evacuation decisions have to be made based on the forecast and the risks associated with it several days in advance," NHC Branch Chief Michael Brennan said. "The potential for Dorian along Florida's coast was certainly there for hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge."

Some global projection models predicted that Dorian wouldn't become a hurricane at all, and a surprising turn northward when it passed over the island of St. Lucia had forecasters redrawing their maps, Brennan said.

Once it started moving up the Atlantic Coast, Dorian moved in a more predictable arc, with the outer edges of the storm hitting the New England islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, as well as Cape Cod, before hitting Nova Scotia, Brennan said.

Despite Hatteras' relative fortune, the only road to the island was so damaged that it hadn't been reopened to general traffic as of end of business Monday. Among the only guests at the Inn at Pamlico Sound are a documentary crew that had already flown in to see how fishing villages are affected by storms before they knew they would be stuck in one, Anderson said.

Among the only personnel authorized to enter Hatteras are insurance adjusters arriving to assess damage claims. Once they complete their work, commercial property owners will begin the process of repair or rebuilding.

 
Aviators with the North Carolina Detachment 1 Bravo Company, 2nd 151st Aviation Regiment conduct aerial search missions from a UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter on Monday. The support and security crew scanned homes and structures for individuals in distress, focusing efforts along the Cape Fear river including the North Carolina areas of New Bern, Wilmington, and Lumberton.
Aviators with the North Carolina Detachment 1 Bravo Company, 2nd 151st Aviation Regiment, conduct aerial search missions from a UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter after Hurricane Florence. The support and security crew scanned homes and structures for individuals in distress, focusing efforts along the Cape Fear river, including the North Carolina areas of New Bern, Wilmington and Lumberton.

Even for property owners who receive insurance payouts on their claims, the rebuilding process is an arduous and costly one.

The Hotel Engelhard remained open through the storm despite sitting on the mainland side of Pamlico Sound, and sustained a moderate amount of damage that nonetheless poses a severe burden to owner Ursula Hayes.

Hotel Engelhard is the only hotel in the small town of Engelhard, and most of its business comes from hunters frequenting the nearby game reserves, Hayes said. The building flooded, and wind tore off part of its roof, smashed one window and uprooted a 200-year-old oak tree on the property.

The roof was brand-new, having been installed after Hurricane Michael last year ripped off the previous one. Hayes said her insurance only paid $2,500 for those repairs, and the rest were out of pocket. She had already taken out a second mortgage on the hotel in 2012 after Hurricane Irene, when insurance paid only $22K for $118K worth of damage.

“We’re still paying the bill for the damage seven years ago, and the flood insurance is a joke,” Hayes said. “If we put all that insurance money in the bank instead, we could cover repairs, but we have to have [flood insurance] for our mortgage.”

FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program has long permitted the use of private insurance in flood plains, but does not supplement those policies. Compounding the issue is a decline in hunting tourism in the area, where hurricane-driven flooding made the nearby game reserves impassable for six months, Hayes said.

“After [Hurricane Michael], our insurance told us, 'You can get another loan,' but when we already have two mortgages, we can’t take another,” Hayes said.

Construction Crane

While many buildings like Hotel Engelhard will see their fair share of challenges in the wake of the storm, not every building in Dorian's path was completed. For projects still under construction when a storm hits, the damage can get even more complicated, DeSimone Consulting Engineers Principal of Forensics JC Araiza said.

“Normally when projects are being constructed, they’re not in the final configuration, so they would be more prone to damage from floods, storm surges and wind,” Araiza said. “A concrete structure wouldn’t really get a lot of damage from wind and rain, but if you have a wooden structure that was underwater from a storm surge, it’s not uncommon that the frame would be permanently damaged and need to be replaced.”

Perhaps more dangerous during the storm itself is the potential for construction equipment to be damaged or blown away by hurricane-force winds. Dorian caused a high-rise crane to topple in Halifax on Sunday, landing on a partially completed apartment tower.

In situations where a large object impacts a building in an urban environment, damage assessments also have to account for potential effects in neighboring buildings, Araiza said. Impact force can radiate outward, and any resulting cracks make a structure's interior more vulnerable to windblown rain.

Dorian's life as a hurricane was roughly two weeks, which to many can feel like an eternity. But the effects from such a storm last much longer, even when they aren't catastrophic, as Hotel Engelhard can attest.

It isn't terribly uncommon for DeSimone to be engaged for 24 to 36 months after a hurricane, Araiza said.

“It might take years for a building to be recovered," he said. 

CORRECTION, SEP. 10, 11:00 A.M. ET: A previous version of this article misspelled JC Araiza's name. This article has been updated.