(USA TODAY) -- A lingering power outage is prompting officials to order an estimated 10,000 tourists off of Ocracoke Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks by noon local time on Friday.
Power went out to Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands, both popular vacation destinations, at 4:30 a.m. Thursday after contractors building a new bridge connecting two other Outer Banks islands drove a steel post through an underground electrical transmission cable, according to a statement from Hyde County, N.C., government. The cable is underneath construction for the new Herbert C. Bonner Bridge in the Oregon Inlet between Bodie and Pea Islands.
Officials say the earliest power could be restored is Friday evening, but it could take as long as a few weeks to get the electricity back up and running, prompting them to order all non-residents to leave. The main concern is for everyone's safety, Donnie Shumate, Hyde County public information officer, said Thursday.
Hyde and Dare county officials issued a state of emergency, the Raleigh News and Observer reported.
Crews from the Cape Hatteras Electrical Cooperative were to begin assessing the damage Thursday evening.
"Depending on the extent of the repairs and the specialized materials required, transmission repairs could take anywhere from days to weeks to complete," the Hyde County statement warned.
The Tideland Electric Membership Corporation tried to run a generator but that wound up damaging equipment, the county said. Tideland is bringing in three mobile generators to see whether that can help restore service, but even if that is successful, the soonest power would be back up is by Friday evening, Hyde County said.
The county is warning that getting power back on will take a group effort and is asking residents to shut off non-essential breakers and to limit power use to refrigeration and fans when power does come back up.
About 9,000 customers were without power on the two islands. The outage comes at the height of tourist season, which runs from June through Labor Day.
Vacationer Erica Plouffe Lazure was visiting Ocracoke Island from Exeter, N.H., but because of the outage, had to cut her trip short and head instead to Elizabeth City, N.C. The motel she'd booked on Ocracoke fired up a generator but the generator exploded minutes after it started, Lazure said.
"There's a lot of hot, sweaty people here," she said, adding that she tried to find another motel further north along the North Carolina coast, but they were either full or charging as much as $500 a night.
"This is a beautiful island and I waited two years to come back here because it's one of my favorite places in the world," Lazure said. "I'm a little bummed that the power has gotten in the way, but ... next time."
Laura Ertle, spokeswoman for the New River Electric Corp., the Roanoke, Va.-based company that erected the cable on the original Bonner Bridge, said she sympathizes with the tourists.
"We know that people are spending a lot of money to come down here and they look forward to their vacation on Hatteras Island every year," Ertle said. "We know that they're getting frustrated, but we just really appreciate their patience."
Ertle said representatives from her company will help dig up the cable that was damaged.
On Thursday evening, Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative tweeted that it was providing power to some customers on Hatteras Island through two portable generators and said it hoped to power up seven more portable generators on Friday.
Customers in the villages of Buxton and Frisco on Hatteras Island were among those receiving power from the generators, Dare County officials said in a statement.
The Dare County Water Department asked Hatteras Island residents to conserve their water use because the outage was limiting production capacity.
Follow Melanie Eversley on Twitter: @melanieeversley
Contributing: Associated Press