All those people who planned on having a wonderful Fourth of July on our east coast have just gotten the bad news: Hurricane Arthur is going to make the weekend miserable and possibly dangerous. North Carolina’s Hatteras Island was given the word early yesterday to evacuate and there were long lines of cars at the Hatteras Ferry and others streaming north on the single highway cutting through the Outer Banks. I wish the home owners along the coast well, because there have been some devastating hurricanes since we moved here in 1981.
Living in Chapel Hill, we always felt we were immune…until Hurricane Fran in September of 1996. We’d been told it would move up the coast, as usual, and not to expect anything except some high winds. So take in your porch furniture. This was probably the last time I took at face value anything from a TV meteorologist.
Instead, Fran moved inland, then turned north, so Chapel Hill was caught on the worst edge of the storm, the northeast. The winds picked up after dark, and the house shook. I had put our two children, and one of my son’s friends who was staying over, to bed around 9. By midnight, the first jarring blow to the house occurred – a huge loblolly pine on the roof. Then another jar. And another. By this time the kids were up. My son opened the garage door and came running in to tell us two of our cars had been crunched by trees. Ten minutes later, our old station wagon bit the dust. In the meantime, water and tree branches were coming into an upstairs bathroom through a smashed skylight. I swabbed up the water and glass and placed pans in judicious spots. Water was pouring through the recessed lighting in the kitchen. My husband figured it was coming from the attic, where he was placing fish tanks under the holes created by the trees on the roof, and mopping up the rest with towels.
By 3 AM, we seemed to have matters under control. I had placed a phone call to a roofer in Durham (we had a landline that miraculously held), who promised to be here at first light. Then the kids and I went to sleep on the floor in the most protected room on the ground floor. Gene kept watch.
Dawn brought the realization that all the trees around our house had been blown down, lying in a huge circle around the property. What we had experienced on our exposed hilltop was a microtornado! Aside from the three trees on the roof and the three on top of the cars, one tree had been driven through the wall of a back bedroom. And another huge loblolly lay in the pool, having crushed our fencing.
The roofer, true to his word, arrived that morning with a huge tarp to put over the trees and the roof. He and his assistants, along with my brother and his chainsaw, had had to walk over a mile to reach our house, because the road was blocked by fallen trees. We couldn’t get out any of the doors to our house because they were all obstructed by fallen debris. Gene and my brother spent the day chain sawing their way around the house.
We had no electricity for two weeks, and you could hear all the generators in the neighborhood roaring. We actually didn’t have one; a friend of ours went to a store where I’d heard there were some coming in, and lay down on top of the last one until she could get our credit card number to pay for it!
We bought two new cars later that week – had to have some transportation – with a loan from my mother. The car dealer regarded us a great customers after that. Graduate students came over and went in the pool with chain saws to take out the tree. We shared our pool water with anyone without running water; they came with buckets, in a line. We also shared meals of meat from the thawed freezers, the smell of grilling wafting from house to house.
It was a month before we could get the trees lifted from our driveway, cars and roof – it took a large crane and thousands of dollars. And fourteen months to restore our house and yard to where it was before Fran: new fencing, new roof, new siding on the house, a new skylight, and lots of painting inside. We had a company come and take away all the downed trees for the cost of the wood.
I am still frightened at heavy winds and worry each time a hurricane approaches. May the coastal homeowners and we be well and safe.
And to every one: Happy Fourth of July in this most wonderful of countries, where I count my blessings each and every day.