Alabama's Tiny Dauphin Island Cleaning Up After Hurricane Nate's Wallop

Oct 9, 2017
Originally published on October 9, 2017 5:47 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

What's left of Hurricane Nate is dowsing New England today. The storm has moved quickly through the country. It made landfall early Sunday on the Central Gulf Coast in Mississippi. Nate was a Category 1 hurricane. It didn't result in the kind of widespread devastation that we've seen elsewhere from other hurricanes, but it did cause a major disruption for four Gulf states. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on how people are trying to put things back in order.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: On a barrier island south of Mobile, Ala., just getting around to assess damage and make repairs is a challenge.

DENT BOYKIN: I'm going to try to stay on high ground (inaudible) - just going to try to pull you up on there.

DAVID SWEAT: OK.

ELLIOTT: David Sweat is trying to check on his house on Dauphin Island, but his four-wheel drive Range Rover is now listing to the left, stuck in deep sand that washed over the road.

SWEAT: We were going to drive to the West End, didn't realize the sand was so wet. So we got most of the way here and sank in this wet sand.

ELLIOTT: Even a Red Cross truck got stuck trying to deliver food. Mayor Jeff Collier says Nate's storm surge moved the beachfront to the roadway. City workers are using bulldozers to remove up to 6 feet of soggy sand that covers a three-mile stretch of the island's main road.

Nate knocked out electricity for more than a hundred thousand customers at the height of the storm, flooded coastal communities and brought economic activity to a halt across the Gulf South. Most people now have their power back. In Mississippi, public health officials have closed beaches until debris is clear, and tests show safe bacteria levels. The city administrator in Biloxi says Nate damaged the electronics that controls several sewage pumping stations which could cost millions of dollars to repair.

Energy companies are trying to get workers back to offshore oil and gas platforms, and shipping is resuming in some places. The Port of New Orleans reopened yesterday, and activity picked up at the Port of Mobile today. Port Vice President Judith Adams says some ships are now allowed to come up Mobile Bay and into the port.

JUDITH ADAMS: We are open but with restriction to 32-foot draft shifts. That means that vessels that draw up to 32 feet of water can come in or leave the port, but they can only do so during daylight transit hours.

ELLIOTT: The Coast Guard says the ports of Pascagoula and Gulfport, Miss., are still closed, as is the port of Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle. Out on Dauphin Island, Dent Boykin offers his Jeep to pull David Sweat's Range Rover out of the sand. Some tugging of the winch, and it's free.

SWEAT: I appreciate it.

BOYKIN: This is what neighbors do. Neighbors help neighbors.

ELLIOTT: Cecil Johnson and Laurie Priddy walked down the beach to check on a vacation home they look after. It's owned by a Texas airline pilot. They're surprised at the extent of damage along the way.

CECIL JOHNSON: It's devastating, though. Concrete's washed away up from under the houses and stay-ups and just all kinds of stuff, man. It's terrible.

LAURIE PRIDDY: The stairways, board walks - they're all gone.

ELLIOTT: Across the island away from the Gulf, Laura and Tom McGee are relieved at what they find at their house.

TOM MCGEE: Mud and sand from the Gulf side came over on our side, which is not a problem really.

LAURA MCGEE: It's just sand. It's just sand. They can push it back out onto the beach.

T. MCGEE: It's manageable. It's not as bad as we've had before.

L. MCGEE: There's no comparison. This was mild. We can live with this

ELLIOTT: And that's the attitude here dealing with Hurricane Nate that turned out to be more of a disruption than a disaster. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Mobile. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.