Tourists drifted back to the Outer Banks on Friday as Felix, the fat hurricane that scared but then spared coastal residents, wobbled farther out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Evacuation orders that cleared about 200,000 people off the narrow barrier islands on Tuesday were lifted Thursday. By Friday morning, merchants were ready for action, but the tourists hadn’t caught up.
“A lot of people are still scared,” said fishing pier employee Oakie Vermilya.
At one point Friday morning, only one fisherman was on the pier at Nags Head. Employees, who had taken all the fishing lures, rods and other stock out of the pier shop, moved everything back in. Outside on the beach road, a few people jogged or rode bikes under clear blue skies.
“After a storm like this, fishing usually picks up,” Vermilya said. “We’re trying to get back to normal and trying to find where everything goes.”
Elsewhere, business owners hosed off doors and windows and got ready for expected business. Hang gliders were set up at the Jockey’s Ridge sand dune to let rental customers know things had returned to normal.
At 5 p.m., Felix - still a hurricane but barely - was about 400 miles east-northeast of Cape Hatteras. The storm was moving to the east at about 8 mph.
The weather service’s Hurricane Center in Florida expected little to no movement and no change in strength through Friday night.
Felix’s maximum sustained winds remained at 75 mph - barely above the 74 mph threshold for a hurricane. But tropical storm-force winds, those from 39 to 73 mph, extended outward up to 290 miles.
Signs expressed local disdain for the storm. “Nothing But a Breeze,” declared one, spray-painted on plywood sheets covering the windows of an art supply shop. “Felix, Call Emily,” said another, referring to the 1993 hurricane, the last to actually touch the Outer Banks.
“I’m glad we could come back and salvage what’s left of our vacation,” said Shirley Mason of Mears, Va.
Gary Ford of Washington, Pa., stood on the beach at dawn waiting for the orange ball of the sun to break past a bank of low clouds.
Ford and his family fled to Petersburg, Va., taking 90 minutes to drive 16 miles at one point in the slow exodus Tuesday. It took only three hours to return and salvage the rest of his vacation.