Milestones:  Remembering hurricanes Emily and Isabel
August 2, 2013

Islanders remember Emily’s devastation


(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 storm.)

Connie Farrow was living on Lester Farrow Road in Frisco during Hurricane Emily on Aug. 31, 1993.  She and her toddler daughter, Tiffany, decided to stay with her brother for the duration of the storm in his two-story house.  As they were preparing to leave, a neighbor stopped by and commented, "Shouldn't you get some of these things up higher?"

"I have lived in this area for most of 30 years," Connie said.  "We have never had tide in the houses."  She later returned home to 18 inches of standing water and numerous ruined photographs, clothes, toys, and other possessions.

While they were staying with her brother, water began flooding the downstairs of the house, forcing them to climb to the second floor.  Tiffany kept running to the doorway to watch the water creep up the stairs.  With a child's innocence, she joyfully announced, "I'm going swimming!"

Karla Jarvis of Hatteras Village says she and her family have many memories of Emily, but this one has a lighter note:

"Since our daughter was so young, we decided at the last minute to evacuate for Hurricane Emily.  I remember that when we got home afterwards, we parked the car and stood in the yard, surveying the damage.  It was so quiet.  It was eerie.  Normally there would have been cicadas buzzing and crickets chirping and a multitude of birds warbling, but they were all gone.  I remember the silence being so strikingly palpable, we just stood there in utter amazement, almost afraid to speak.

"Then we heard it — the unmistakable sounds of our three little hens, clucking away.  On the morning we had hurriedly left, my husband had put them in a peeler pot and sat the pot on top of a pile of webbing — the highest spot we could find.  We ran to the backyard, and sure enough, there they were, poking their little heads in and out of the sides of the pot!

"We're not sure how they made it through the storm.  We had about 18 inches of water inside the house so we figured the water outside had to have been over the top of the pot.  We joked that they must have taken turns holding their breath and standing on each others' heads.  We'll never know their story, but they sure were three happy little hens that day when we took them out of the pot and let them run free.

"I guess this one sticks out in my mind the most because I am such an auditory person.  I can still remember that eerie silence after all these years later.  Strange, huh?"

Edie Coulter and her husband, "Creature," were under their house in Frisco, attempting to secure a few things when they saw the tide beginning to rise at the corner of their yard.  They decided to disconnect their propane tanks, but within minutes the water was up to their waists and climbing higher.  As they struggled with the tanks, Edie says they were pelted with pine cones shaken from the trees in the wind and rain.

They had previously parked their John Deere lawn tractor on top of their septic tank since that spot was the highest point in their yard.  "We stood at the upstairs window and watched the water rise right up over that old John Deere," Edie remembers.  "There was just water everywhere.  So much water.  Water as far as the eye could see."

John Alwine of Buxton has many Emily memories and shares this one:

"One of the most memorable things about Hurricane Emily and its aftermath is how I met Dan Rather.

"The morning after Emily hit, the first item on my agenda was to get outside and see how much damage had been done to the house and surrounding area.  My home backs up to Buxton Woods.  The area is low and usually wet even during a dry summer.  The water had risen from the wooded area up to within a few feet of my shop.  This was kind of okay because it provided me with a source of water to use to flush the toilets in the house, since there was no water available otherwise.

"Walking around to the front of the house, I saw a large TV satellite truck parked just to the south.  Being nosy, my neighbor, Ann Jennette, and I went that way to see what was going on.  Low and behold, Dan Rather stepped out of the van, introduced himself, and began asking questions about damage to our property, etc.  He walked with Ann and me back to our homes to see the damage firsthand."

John also remembers that during the height of the storm, he was sitting in the dark in his kitchen, listening to weather bulletins on the battery-operated radio, trying to stay "cool, calm, and collected".  Out of nowhere, there came a knock on the door. 

He says, "The wind a-blowin' like crazy, rain falling heavy enough to blind a person, and someone knocks on my door!  I yelled for them to come in, and in popped N.F. and Doris Jennette, my neighbors, soaked to the skin.  They were at home when the water started coming in the floor vents.  It rose so fast that by the time they could get out, it was up to their waists.  The water damage to their home was extensive."

John says that a day or two after Emily passed, a neighbor called to ask him to check on the neighbor's waterfront house at the end of Cottage Avenue. 

"I pulled in under the house as usual, got out, and stepped on a can of beer.  I looked around and there was beer everywhere.  Every brand you could think of.  I walked around the house and found beer in the bushes, laying in the yard, and pooled into piles in low places in the driveway.  I checked the house, documented damage, and commenced to pick up beer.  Just on my friend's lot, I picked up 175 cans of beer.  (Mind you, I only picked up premium brands.)  I walked around the neighborhood and found more beer and cans of soft drinks.

"The beer and other items were from a brew-through type of establishment owned by Corky Whitehead that had been hit full force by the hurricane and completely emptied of its contents.

"At my age, I have a hard time remembering everything about Emily.  One thing I do remember well is that I didn't like it one bit."

Linda Browning's memories of Emily come in sound bites and mental photographs:

CRACK!  A gunshot.  No.  A tree breaking in half.  CRACK!  Another. And another.  And another.  Pieces of straw in an invisible fist.

Wind.  So loud that conversation cannot be heard above the roar.  Wood and rafters screaming, not wanting to let go.

Tide.  Rising to the base of the pilings of the house.  Get higher.  Climbing up the tires of the car.  Now up the engine compartment.

Rain.  Filling up the air space between our double-hung windows.  How am I going to get the water out?

Fear.  When would the storm pass?  What would be left?  Who would be hurt?

Later…Green.  Pine needles cover everything in sight.

Smell.  Rancid sewage odors from flooded septic tanks fill my nostrils along with the sweet, clean fragrance of evergreens — like Christmas.  (The storm left more than 300 60-foot pines lying on the ground around our house.)

Sadness.  I see sky where before I saw only intertwining limbs.  The woods are decimated.  Song birds fly in confusion.  I think:  They need a new map.  Squirrels won't know their way to our bird feeder now.

Heartbreak.  My community's ruined belongings are piled high on the roadside waiting for the trash trucks to haul them away.

Cleaning.  I stand in my shop and pour seawater out of the pottery onto the already-wet floor.  The tide line is at 14 inches in a place where it never floods.  My husband comes in and hands me the video, "Great Weather Disasters," which he had ordered from the Weather Channel weeks earlier.

Laughing.  Finally.

Alan Yeingst watched part of the storm from James Rollinson's porch in Buxton, behind Conner’s Supermarket.  They watched in amazement as pine trees bent over at 45 degree angles, as the tide rose to the edge of the porch, and they considered moving the furniture.  Alan waded in chest-deep water to the market's parking lot to move his truck — water was already over the floor boards.  Snakes were everywhere. 

He remembers a funny moment when James strolled out on to his porch and yelled, "Ah, Buck!  It’s just a shirt-tail breeze!"

Ernie and Lynne Foster of Hatteras village stayed at Ernal and Hazel Foster's house on Highway 12 during the storm.  Lynne says, "During the storm, we heard a knock on the back door.  There were two 'Coasties' who had waded through the water, in the dark, to see if we were all right or needed any help!  I realize now that it was probably a tribute to Captain Ernal and not standard practice."

During Hurricane Emily, Robin Jennette stayed with friends on Buxton's Back Road.  She says the storm rolled over Buxton during the daytime.  Everyone could see what was happening. 

"I knew we were in trouble when we saw the water running down the Back Road just like a river.  Sometime after midnight Emily appeared to have gone by, so we decided to take a drive to check out the damage.  My friends dropped me off at the beginning of Rocky Rollinson Road.  I waded in chest deep water, in the dark, hoping I wouldn't walk into any snakes, to my trailer.  The carpet was squishy, but the top of the bed was dry.  I was so tired, I just peeled off my wet clothes and got right in.  Hurricane Emily was terrible."

(This article by the late Linda Nunn was written for the August 2003 issue of The Island Breeze.)

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