Another N.C. Beach House Just Fell into the Ocean. Others May Follow.

National Park Service
The collapsed house at 24131 Ocean Dr. in Rodanthe, N.C.

Another home has crumbled into the sea in Rodanthe, N.C., the scenic Outer Banks community where rising seas and relentless erosion have claimed a growing number of houses and forced some property owners to take drastic measures to retreat from the oceanfront.

The National Park Service, which manages the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, said an unoccupied home at 24131 Ocean Drive probably collapsed around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The demise of the five-bedroom house, which county records show had stood since 1970, makes it the sixth house to topple along that part of the national seashore over the past four years, the agency said.

“Another one bit the dust,” David Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, said in an interview. And it probably won’t be the last, as many homes in the area are perilously close to the surf. “This situation will continue.”

As with other homes that have suffered a similar fate, Tuesday’s collapse prompted officials to close a roughly one-mile stretch of beach to the public while cleanup began. Given the wind and tides, the remnants of fallen homes can stretch for miles along the shoreline.

“Dangerous debris may be present on the beach and in the water,” Park Service spokesman Mike Barber said in a statement. “Additional beach closures may be necessary as the debris spreads and cleanup efforts proceed.”

Hallac said the National Park Service sent 49 employees to the site to help jump-start the cleanup, including staffers who typically answer phones, do accounting and manage campground facilities.

“If we don’t do it, we’d be accepting the fact this debris would continue to spread for many miles,” he said. “You have to begin cleanup immediately, otherwise it becomes an almost unachievable cleanup in the future.”

Hallac said that along the beach, he saw many boards with nails sticking out of them, along with chunks of drywall, mattresses, kitchen utensils, chess pieces and dominoes.

“It underscores this idea that everything in that house is now all over the place,” he said, adding that workers removed dozens of truckloads of debris Tuesday.

The latest house collapse in Rodanthe is less a surprise than merely another reminder of how vulnerable many properties are in this small community, which is home to some of the most rapid rates of erosion and sea level rise on the East Coast. Seas near Rodanthe have risen by 4.6 inches since 2010, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Noah Gillam, planning director for Dare County, said the home on Ocean Drive had been “decertified for occupancy” since early 2022 because it no longer had a functioning septic system.

“The erosion kept them from ever being able to reestablish a septic system,” Gillam said in an email. He said that in recent weeks, the house began showing signs that some of its pilings were failing, and it began to lean.

“We notified the property owners of our observations and that they made preparations to have a contractor on standby in the event it collapsed,” Gillam said.

The owners of the house, which last sold in 2021 for $500,000, could not immediately be reached for comment. But public records hint at its declining value in recent years. In 2005, it was assessed at $687,600, according to Dare County records. The most recent assessed value was $185,400.

The encroaching sea along this swath of North Carolina has left dozens of homeowners to grapple with a similar predicament.

Some have been unable to act before their own homes gave way, sending their personal investment vanishing into the ocean, creating a public safety and environmental hazard, and ultimately leaving them on the financial hook for the cleanup.

Others have scrambled to move their houses further inland from the pounding surf – a proposition that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in many causes, might only buy so much time.

Still others last fall agreed to sell their precariously perched vacation homes to the Park Service, which, after spending more than $700,000 for the salt-sprayed houses, promptly tore them down and turned the area into a public beach.

“It will be a safer beach,” Hallac said at the time, adding that he plans to explore the possibility of scaling up this approach in an area where strong storms and shifting sands mean numerous houses are on the brink of collapse.

Some residents have argued that local officials and the Park Service should be taking more aggressive actions to protect the fast-eroding shoreline and the residents who live near it. But at the same time, there are no easy answers, and some officials say those who live near the water must accept a measure of responsibility.

“If you’re going to buy on the oceanfront, that’s a roll of the dice,” Dare County Commissioner Danny Couch told The Post during one visit in late 2022. “It always has been and always will be.”

An engineering assessment undertaken by the county last year found that the type of extensive beach nourishment that many residents want for the area would cost as much as $40 million. Maintaining that beach over 30 years would cost more than $175 million, the report found.

By comparison, the balance in Dare County’s beach nourishment fund, which comes from a tax on hotels and vacation rentals and must go toward multiple projects in the sprawling county, stood at about $6 million at the time – meaning that, absent a large batch of funding from the state or federal government, no beach nourishment in the community appears imminent.