Five months after Hurricane Florence, Topsail Island is still in the process of rebuilding. Beach towns along the barrier island that rely on tourism are busy prepping for the summer season.
Chris Rackley is the president of Lewis Realty Associates, which manages about 250 long and short term rental properties on Topsail. The majority of his properties sustained wind and water damage in the storm, but the repair process is going smoothly.
"It’s going great," he said. "It's labor intensive. We hit the ground once they let us back on the island a week after the storm and started the rebuilding process. For the most part, we'll be back together and back to business for the summer season."
As contractors race to repair rentals, there's a similar push to rebuild dunes.
In North Topsail, work crews are using bulldozers to push beach sand up the shoreline to recreate the dunes eaten away by waves and rain. That effort is largely cosmetic, according to Spencer Rogers, a coastal construction and erosion specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant.
"It makes owners feel better because they see more sand in a higher pile in front of their house, but it doesn't really give them any added protection," said Rogers, who has studied hurricanes and their impact on coastal communities for more than four decades. "It's long ingrained in North Carolina historically, so we see a fair amount of it."
Officials in Surf City are planning to haul sand from a nearby mine to fill in areas the town has deemed in critical need.
Driving sand up the beach or dumping it on dunes it will help recreate the landscapes tourists expect to see at the beach, but Rogers said for long-term protection from hurricanes, local governments will need to invest in beach nourishment, a pricey process of dredging sand from the sea bed and depositing it on to the shore.
"You can’t just go put in a one-time beach nourishment project, much less a small dune, and expect it to stay there forever," said Rogers. "Beach nourishment requires regular maintenance almost always."
Nourishment projects are planned for Topsail's beaches in the future. For now, Rackley and other business owners are ready to welcome tourists back to the island.
"I think they'll be pleasantly surprised when they come that Topsail weathered the storm and is back better than ever," said Rackley.