CommunityPam's House Blend

Hurricanes

Wobbly Ophelia is gaining strength as it nears the Carolinas. It’s a Cat 2 hurricane now, and forecasts aren’t too sure about its precise landfall, but it’s heading our way…

The Atlantic storm Ophelia regained hurricane force on Saturday as U.S. forecasters placed coastal North and South Carolina under a hurricane watch.

The watch issued by the National Hurricane Center in Miami cautioned that fierce winds and other hurricane conditions were possible within 36 hours in an area along the southeastern U.S. coast from the Savannah River in South Carolina to Cape Lookout in North Carolina.

I didn’t really post my thoughts about Katrina’s destruction as someone that lives in a state that has experienced pretty bad hurricanes in the last decade or so.

Ophelia is not well-formed, certainly not like Hurricane Floyd (Sept 16, 1999), which horrifically flooded southeastern (“Down East”) NC. The hurricane made landfall on the 9/16 near Cape Fear, NC with category 2 winds of 105 mph. Total damage estimates ranged between $3-$6 billion — damaging whole towns, but most notably, flooding industrial farms — pigs, cattle, etc. The carcasses floated and festered for days. We didn’t experience much damage here in the central part of the state, just wind and rain and some power outages. Look at the flooding caused in NC by Floyd —


Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The hurricane that I lived through and will never, ever forget, was Hurricane Fran (September 5, 1996). That was a Category 3 storm, and it was huge — hurricane force winds were 150 miles inland from the eye. Since the massive storm struck at night (it hit the coast at 8PM), it was one terrifying, long night — they aren’t kidding when they say the wind sounds like a freight train.

The coast of NC was devastated needless to say, with complete areas were washed right off the map.


Click to enlarge.

See more photos here.

The house that I lived in at the time was a bungalow with 3 enormous trees on the property — 100-year-old pin/willow oaks — and if any of them fell on the house, it would have been crushed. This pic will give you an idea of the size of the trees. This is just a branch.

This pic is from 2002, of a branch that fell in my old backyard after a storm, to give you an idea of the threat and mess. Same-sized branches fell from my tree and from one on a neighbor’s lot during Fran. It’s typical of the damage experienced in most in-town neighborhoods in Durham.

We had no power for four days, which is no hardship compared to some areas in Wake County (Raleigh) which had no power for a few weeks; most neighborhoods have above-ground wires, so trees took out lots of transformers and lines. Some of my neighbors with equally large trees had them fall on their houses. My heart breaks for the Katrina victims. My house was still standing; my city was still intact.

As with Katrina, the weather post-storm was beautiful and clear, but hellishly hot — upper 90s. After the four days withhout power, people were getting crabby and crazy, but there was no looting. One site has detail on the effects describes a bit of what it was like inland:

Fran also dumped torrential rain. Eastern North Carolina and Virginia suffered its worst flooding in history (until Floyd in 1999). Rainfall of 6 to 15 inches, flooded the region extensively. Several rivers and lakes in North Carolina reported their highest known flows. The one million square foot Crabtree Mall/Sheraton Hotel in Raleigh, was flooded up to the second level. Weeks later, mall merchants reported finding poisonous snakes that had climbed on upper shelves to escape the rising water. Dozens of road and foot bridges over streams and rivers were swept away.

There’s more on what happened in the Triangle here. A lot of 20-foot branches littered my yard, thankfully only damaging the edge of the attached shed of my house. It took weeks to clean up. There were 8 foot high piles of branches that you’d see in front of people’s houses waiting for pickup by the city. Those were there for months, because it took so long to get around to all of the areas. Some pix of damage are here.

What I cannot imagine, with the experience of living through the destruction that Cat 3 Fran caused so far inland, is why anyone that was able to leave before high-Cat 4 Katrina hit didn’t get the hell out — especially if you had pets. I also cannot fathom how the city and state officials of those Gulf states affected didn’t have an evacuation plan for those that wanted to leave but had no means to do so. Bush and FEMA are completely, criminally inept, don’t get me wrong, but the local officials (and the folks they elected and sent to Washington) buried their heads in the sand for years, hoping “the big one” didn’t happen on their watch.

This country has seen the devastation caused by Andrew, Fran, Floyd and Hugo — there is no earthly excuse for the “I didn’t know it could be that bad” defense by the people elected to think about these things.

Any state that is in a hurricane zone needs to think about how prepared they are to take care of its citizens, given the pathetic response to Katrina, because billions of damage and displacement of people can easily occur with “just” a Cat 2 or 3 storm.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding