Now a Maryland company is working to restore access to the barrier islands.
Mabey Bridge & Shore Inc. in Elkridge is shipping sections of a bridge that will form a temporary span over the largest breach along North Carolina Highway 12, the road that connects the majority of the Outer Banks to the mainland. The storm in late August caused several breaches along the highway, cutting off Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
Mabey Bridge & Shore is one of several Maryland companies whose services and products have been used in response to natural disasters.
TeleCommunications Systems Inc. in Annapolis, for instance, makes small satellite devices that provide telephone, email and video communication, which have been used by rescue workers during Hurricane Katrina and floods in the Philippines and Malaysia.
Smiths Detection in Edgewood is seeking government approval and federal funding to develop domestic uses — such as in the aftermath of natural disasters — for its portable emergency room. The medical shelter, which inflates into a tent, is now used to treat soldiers in battlefields.
Within days of Irene, North Carolina's Department of Transportation contacted two bridge manufacturers in its search for a firm to build temporary structures. Officials chose Mabey, which had worked on several projects for the state, said Victor Barbour, the department's technical services administrator.
North Carolina officials hope to have the temporary bridge, expected to cost $2.6 million, in place by early October, Barbour said.
Being part of the recovery efforts in North Carolina "feels pretty good," said Andrew Boorman, general manager of Mabey's bridging division.
"NCDOT put us on notice and they've expressed their gratefulness for being able to respond so quickly," Boorman said.
The company is also helping with recovery efforts in Vermont, which suffered heavy flooding during Irene, though the details of that work are not yet known, Boorman said.
For its work in North Carolina, Mabey is providing a 660-feet long, 700-ton steel through-truss bridge to be assembled on-site across the breach. About 17 trucks carrying pieces of the bridge arrived last week; more trucks are headed there this week.
Mabey Bridge & Shore is not new to responding to natural disasters.
Its parent company, the U.K.-based Mabey Group, has provided emergency bridges after hurricanes, typhoons and earthquakes around the world.
Mabey Bridge & Shore — which serves the U.S. market — opened its U.S. headquarters in Maryland in 1989, and now employs 180 workers across the country. About 40 are based in Elkridge.
Boorman recalled providing temporary bridges to a community in New Hampshire after a heavy storm caused a dam to break several years ago.
Work related to natural disasters is a small piece of Mabey Bridge's business, Boorman said. The bulk of its business involves providing excavation support and temporary roadways. The privately held company does not make its revenue public.
Most of the temporary bridges the company supplies are used to provide traffic detours during road constructions.
"Disasters are fairly infrequent," Boorman said. "It will be a small amount of the work we do over the year."
However, the recent Irene work is "taking 100 percent of our time in the last week or so," Boorman said of his bridging division.
Mabey Bridge has provided two temporary bridges for a road project under way on U.S. 40 along the Howard County-Baltimore County line.
The State Highway Administration began work in May on an $18 million project to rehabilitate and partially reconstruct a 75-year-old bridge over the Patapsco River. The temporary bridges on each side of U.S. 40 will carry traffic during the construction.