In the outer banks, storm surges are destroying parts of the one highway onto and off of Hatteras Island. That’s despite massive sandbag structures the state Department of Transportation built a few years ago along the most battered section of N.C. Highway 12. The structures are covered to look like dunes, and they’re 20 feet wide, six feet tall and stretch for almost a half-mile.
But Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the sandbags.
"When Sandy came in, it pretty much destroyed the entire sandbag structure, and those bags are all strewn all over the beach and there are places where the roadway kind of does not exist or certainly is not safe for any vehicular traffic," said Doug Huggett of the state Division of Coastal Management.
It was a staggering sight - with long, jagged stretches of gnarled pavement and hundreds of huge, white sandbags lumped randomly along the water's edge, almost like seals sunbathing.
And keep in mind, N.C. 12 is the only road connecting Hatteras Island to the mainland.
"So all of the villages to the south of this location, Rodanthe, Buxton, Hatteras Village, Waves, Salvo, all of those villages and communities are absolutely dependent upon this roadway as their lifeline to get onto and off of the island," Huggett said.
Huggett said the people who live and work in those communities have to rely on ferries and boats until the highway is fixed. But this week it might take on even more damage. The National Weather Service forecasts more flooding in the area because of a nor’easter moving up the coast.
When the Department of Transportation does rebuild the highway, crews will do it 10 to 15 feet farther from the ocean. They’ll also build even bigger sandbag structures – up to 25 feet wide and 8 feet tall.
Huggett said that’ll help, but it won’t solve the problem.
"I think the intent is for it to allow for greater protection," he said. "There is still probably going to be some time that there is overwash and some road closures, but certainly with the larger structures in place it's hoped those events will be fewer and further between."
That’s the best case scenario until the Department of Transportation decides on a long-term solution, like building a bridge that goes over or around the most troubled stretch of N.C. 12.