August 2, 2013
Remembering Hurricane Emily:
It was the ‘hurricane of the century’
By IRENE NOLAN
(Editor's note: This week, we present you with two "archived
articles of the week." Both are about Hurricane Emily, which sent
a storm surge of historical proportions over the southern end of
Hatteras Island on Aug. 31, 1993. It was my first hurricane after
I moved to Hatteras Island in 1991, and I remember it today as if it
was yesterday. The second article was written by the late Linda Nunn,
who talked to many islanders 10 years later about their memories of the
all was said and done and the facts and figures analyzed, Wally
DeMaurice, who was director of the National Weather Service Office in
Buxton when the storm hit in 1993, declared Emily the "hurricane of the
century" — at least for the lower part of Hatteras Island.
said in an interview after the storm that the eye of the hurricane came
within 13 miles of Cape Hatteras in the early evening of Tuesday, Aug.
31, 1993. The lower villages from Avon to Hatteras were in the
storm’s west eyewall for about 11/2 hours. During that time, the
villages were battered with sustained winds of hurricane force, or 74
wind instruments at the National Weather Service in Buxton stopped
functioning about 6 p.m. when flood waters from the Pamlico Sound got
telephone lines wet. The highest gust measured at the office
before that time was 98 mph.
A wind gauge at Fox Watersports in
Buxton, which DeMaurice said was "very reliable," measured a gust of
107 at 6:12 p.m. The winds at the Diamond Shoals tower, which was
very close to the eye, were clocked at 142.
DeMaurice said he
has had reports from residents with wind instruments at their homes of
winds up to 138 mph. He couldn’t say that the wind didn’t blow
that hard, but he did note that wind instruments at the peak of a steep
roof can accentuate wind speed.
"However," DeMaurice said, "we did not have 138 mile-per-hour damage. We had 100 mile-per-hour damage."
noted that even though the island was in the eyewall, it was not on the
most dangerous side of the storm, generally the northeast quadrant.
"We did not have a landfalling hurricane," he said. "We had a glancing blow."
said he was "sweating buckshot" until Emily’s gaping eye, headed
straight for Cape Hatteras, made a turn to the north, just a few miles
off the coast. If the hurricane had passed over the island and
turned north up the sound, he emphasized, the devastation would have
been unbelievably worse.
The devastation on the lower part of
the island, he noted, was because of the duration of the storm.
While Gloria in 1985 moved over Hatteras at 28 mph, Emily poked along
at eight to 13 miles per hour. The persistent northwest winds
drove a storm surge from the Pamlico Sound over the island up to 101/2
feet in places.
These, DeMaurice said, were the greatest water
levels in living memory — more than the hurricanes of ‘33 and ‘44, and
probably more than the 1899 storm. The worse since a hurricane in
1846 opened Oregon and Hatteras inlets.
storm surge brought up to five feet of water into the homes of island
residents from Avon through Buxton and on to Frisco and Hatteras
There were no deaths and only one reported injury
during the storm, but Emily brought devastating personal tragedy to the
County officials estimated the damage at $12.6
million, a figure which in itself is misleading. It may not seem
like that much, but it’s more impressive when you consider that most of
it was limited to a 17-mile stretch of the island.
estimates indicated that 683 primary homes of residents were affected
by the storm. That included 168 homes destroyed, 216
uninhabitable because of major damage, and 144 uninhabitable because of
minor damage. It was estimated that 25 percent of the year-round,
single-family homes were destroyed or uninhabitable.
suffering was compounded by the fact that many of the businesses in the
affected area were badly damaged and closed, putting many folks out of
work, at least temporarily. And the lack of affordable year-round
housing was a major problem for displaced families.
In the days
after the storm, Highway 12 and the side roads were lined with the
remains of what had been homes, as residents laid out their devastation
for all to see and for highway crews to load into trucks and cart
away. The piles seemed to get higher, as the days went by, and
bedding and furniture were added to ruined carpets.
Then came stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers, televisions and then ruined clothing and toys.
"glancing blow" seemed anything but glancing as dazed islanders began
the process of cleaning up, picking up, and putting their lives back
together. Help poured in from the county, from the state, from
the federal government, and from private groups and individuals.
response was impressive, and in just two weeks, Hatteras Island looked
almost normal to tourists who had been allowed to return to the
island. Businesses began to open, and slowly the pace of life
began returning to what it was before Aug. 31.
tourist, in a story in The Virginian-Pilot, called the damage
"anti-climactic" after all the media coverage and said that "compared
to the Florida thing (Hurricane Andrew in 1992), it’s not all that bad."
course, the lower end of Hatteras Island does not have the number of
people that the lower end of Florida has, and homes were not just blown
apart by the wind, leaving piles of timbers for tourists to see.
However, the combination of wind and surging Pamlico Sound waters
inflicted emotional and financial wounds that were months and years
Emily struck a crushing blow to Hatteras Island,
which had been enjoying a financial recovery of sorts after several
bleak years of a bad economy, devastating nor’easters, and a freak
accident that took the island’s only bridge out of commission for
It is true that these fragile
barrier islands are used to whims of the winds, and hearty, spirited
islanders have weathered storms here for centuries. But few were
prepared for what Emily wrought.
Nevertheless, most Hatteras
islanders picked up and went on, as they did many times before, thanks
to the indomitable human spirit. Either perversely or thankfully,
terrific devastation brings out the best in mankind.
who themselves had suffered great losses rushed to help those who were
in greater need. Neighbors to the north and south who were spared
the wrath of the storm, rushed in to help. The community pulled
together, and concerned people all over the state and the country sent
comfort by the truckload.
Through it all, it was interesting to note that both the terrible tragedy and the terrific response brought tears to our eyes.
(Editor’s note: This article is based on an article from 1993 in The Island Breeze.)