Coastal residents and vacationers shrugged off the fading effects of Hurricane Earl and got ready to enjoy Labor Day weekend Saturday as officials reopened the main highway linking the Outer Banks to the mainland.
Hundreds of cars packed the Bonner Bridge as N.C. 12 reopened about 7 a.m. Traffic was slow because pools of water remained on the road.
The highway had been closed since overnight Thursday because of water and sand blown by Earl. Workers used bulldozers to help clear it and had to wait for some of the water to drain. The closure meant people who did not leave Hatteras Island and its seven villages before the storm were cut off from the mainland. While some homes flooded, no injuries or major damage were reported.
Most traffic Saturday morning headed south onto the island as visitors made their way in to enjoy the final weekend of the summer vacation season.
Wayne Hammond, 47, a mechanic from Baltimore, said he was initially supposed to vacation with his family for a week starting Thursday.
After the storm passed Friday, he and his family began their trip south, staying in Kitty Hawk that night and then getting to Hatteras Island shortly after authorities reopened the highway. At the same time, the remnants of Earl - which was downgraded to a tropical storm - were spinning toward Nova Scotia.
"There's always better weather after a hurricane," Hammond noted.
Normal ferry service from the mainland to Ocracoke Island and from Ocracoke Island to Hatteras Island resumed Saturday morning.
Ferry service was available Friday evening for returning residents, but Ocracoke resident Mary Haggerty said in an interview with The News & Observer that many residents were unprepared to take advantage of those ferries. Haggerty evacuated to Chapel Hill on Wednesday, and by the time she arrived in Swan Quarter on Saturday morning, she had to wait in line behind people, mostly tourists, who had made reservations prior to the storm.
Staff writer David Bracken contributed to this report.