RODANTHE — As a storm-crazed ocean churned furiously around its spindly pilings, a weather-beaten house collapsed Tuesday afternoon into the surf on this Hatteras Island beach.
It was the second house that day to fall into the raging sea. The first one fell early in the morning.
A number of people at the beach captured the moment on their cell phones when the second structure, a tan wooden house, crumbled into the water. One video showed a direct view as the house seemed to heave before surrendering to the relentless pounding. As soon as it caved into the ocean, waves surged under the wreckage and began carrying it away from the beach, as if a toy.
An intense nor’easter had been sitting on the Outer Banks since Sunday, with strong winds and powerful currents pounding the beach and dunes and causing ocean overwash. The storm was expected to linger through Thursday. Dangerous conditions resulted in ferry cancellations and road closures on Hatteras Island.
“These homes collapsing is not a surprise,” Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent Dave Hallac said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “To some degree, we were surprised that these houses didn’t collapse before.”
The first to fall was at 24235 Ocean Drive, which collapsed at about 3 a.m. Tuesday. The second structure at 24265 Ocean Drive went down shortly after noon Tuesday. The primary owners of each house live out of state, one in Tennessee and the other in California, according to Dare County tax records.
After another house collapsed Feb. 9 in the same Ocean Drive area at the south end of Rodanthe, Hallac said, Dare County officials had warned him that several other nearby houses were at risk of imminent collapse.
Hallac said that he had notified owners of the at-risk homes of the threatening situation and asked them to move the houses or take other proactive measures. Since then, he said, three of the owners had applied for and were granted permits to have a contractor remove debris after the houses fell. The owners of the two houses that collapsed Tuesday were notified that morning that they had fallen, he added.
But even with permits in hand, the contractor will not be able to get on the island until the storm passes and N.C. 12 is reopened. Even then, it will be impossible to access the remains of the houses until the ocean calms.
After the house fell in February, Hallac said, a contractor picked up debris that stretched as far as 14 miles to the south. Considering that this storm has been so powerful, he said it’s hard to even guess how far and wide debris from two houses will travel on the currents. Although the contractor had removed a vast amount of debris, there were also numerous pickups required by National Park Service personnel and volunteers. It is likely the cleanup process will be similar, he said, but more extensive this time.
The stretch of beach near the homes is closed because of the risk posed by debris. And there was still at least one more house that appeared Tuesday to be in danger of being taken by the Atlantic.
“My priority right now is No. 1, public safety. A couple of two-by-fours or pilings can easily break a leg,” Hallac said. “And No. 2, is to protect Cape Hatteras National Seashore.”