Hurricane Sandy raises the dead on Tangier Island

Tangier Island, Va. – Days after Hurricane Sandy churned the Chesapeake Bay and battered Tangier, Carol Moore went for a walk. A part of Tangier Island, even at low tide, is barely above the waves. No one lives there, but it wasn’t always like that.

“A thriving community. My great grandfather owned a general store up here. And there was a school and a church,” says Carol.

A hurricane in the 1930s forced out the townspeople. They retreated to the main part of Tangier, leaving behind the artifacts of their lives. Time and tide washed them away, or buried them, until recently. Among the shells and the driftwood, Carol spotted bottles, a button and then bones.

“I was just walking along the shore and ran across five graves and three skeletons, a couple skulls and lots of bones,” says Carol.

This section of Tangier Island, already ravaged by centuries of storms, took another severe blow from Hurricane Sandy. The erosion uncovered pieces of the island`s past, including a graveyard.

You can see the outlines of the caskets on what is now the beach. The button is from a child’s burial shirt; his tiny skeleton now exposed to the bay. The recently uncovered headstones show the burials were for the Pruitt family in the 1800s. The graveyard was once well inland, but now the tide laps against it.

A look into Tangier’s past also tells its future. The island is losing around 19 feet of land a year. A jetty has helped along the island’s southwestern side. But islanders say they rest of the land needs protection, either an expanded jetty or a seawall. Carol and the other 500 who live there say they are running out of time.

“Another storm like Isabel or Ernesto could wipe us out,” says Carol.

Hurricane Sandy unearthed some of the island’s hidden history. Another storm like that, Carol says, could make the entire island a memory.

“Everybody`s worried about that,” she says.

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