Longstanding fears about the vulnerability of State Route 12 on North Carolina’s Hatteras Island were realized this past weekend as the pounding of wind-driven waves from a major nor’easter flattened protective dunes and destroyed nearly 800 feet of pavement on the barrier island’s only highway just north of Rodanthe.

Although the storm, which included remnants of Hurricane Ida, moved to the northeast on Saturday, emergency repair work has been stymied by continued overwash conditions, leaving a double ferry hop via Ocracoke Island as the main surface route to the island’s villages. A limited daytime-only sand path bypass around the area of damaged pavement was established on Sunday solely for emergency and four-wheel drive vehicles.

As Jerry Jennings, Division 1 engineer for the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT) told the Island Free Press newspaper, “The challenge of restoring traffic is at the mercy of Mother Nature.” 

The buckled pavement and undermined foundation was likened to another stretch of Route 12 that was significantly damaged by Hurricane Dennis in 1999 and required several weeks to be rebuilt.

The damaged area is one of several overwash “hot spots” along Route 12 that NCDOT plans to address as part of a comprehensive plan to stabilize access to and across Hatteras Island, beginning with a new bridge across Oregon Inlet.

The schedule for replacing the existing 45-year-old bridge has slipped in recent months, however, with the issuance of a Record of Decision on the approximately $300 million design-build project now as much as eight weeks behind schedule.  

 Another casualty of the storm may be Serendipity, the rental cottage made famous in the movie Nights in Rodanthe. Wave action that has eaten away the house’s approximately 300 feet of frontage beach over the past 15 years has now fully undercut its foundation, leaving the distinctive structure entirely in the surf. Houses adjacent to Serendipity also suffered overwash and beach erosion during last week’s storm.

UPDATE 11/17/09 5:15 pm. A layer of gravel has been placed atop one lane of Route 12's storm-damaged pavement, allowing NCDOT to  partially reopen the highway. The agency also suspended the temporary ferry service between Rodanthe and Stumpy Point on the North Carolina mainland that had been implemented on Sunday. Dare County's webcam at the overwash location has also been restored.