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Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Thursday, October 6, 2016
“Hazel” is not a typo. Yesterday, I said I would write down my reminiscences of Hurricane Hazel from my childhood, once Hanna had passed through. At the end of this, you’ll find an extract from Wikipedia’s entry for Hazel.
I’m writing this as I remember it from my perspective as an eight year old--with parenthetical insertions added to explain what was probably going on at the time.
We had been visiting my paternal grandparents at "Long Acres" for the previous week before the hurricane struck and I think we were originally intending to stay longer.
Long Acres was a piece of property belonging to my grandparents—right on the shore of the sound between the barrier islands and the mainland—just outside of Shallotte, NC. That's actually Shallotte, not a mis-spelling of Charlotte NC.
My grandparents had begun improving the wooded property--first sleeping in a tent while they added a one-room cabin on their own. They stayed at Long Acres during the summers when my grandfather wasn't teaching at the University of Maryland.
Next step up was a two-floor "house" where neither floor was ever divided into rooms so far as I can remember. Several beds and at least one bookcase filled the upper floor.
I have a photograph of the outside of the house but not the interior. (The original cabin is just out of frame on the left, and we're facing away from the sound)
Years later--when I was maybe 14--my grandparents had an actual brick house built next to the original house and connected to it via a breezeway. But, that was way in the future at the time of Hazel.
My cousin Stephy, short for Stephanie, was also visiting. She was approximately my age. I don't know where her older brother Lance was at the time. Stephanie was related to my step-grandmother, not to my grandfather. My parents had agreed to take Stephy to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on our way home.
I have snatches of memory from the early part of the trip. I remember Stephy and I playing games--possibly pinball in those days-- in some kind of open-walled amusement building. Which I assume was in Myrtle Beach.. I remember having dinner in a restaurant and ordering swordfish and being disappointed. Maybe I expected a sword on the side?
The next thing I remember is staying overnight in a hotel when we didn't want to because my mother had a bad headache. My mom was prone to severe migraines. My dad hadn't driven since a bad accident when I was a toddler. If my mom were out of commission as driver, that was that.
We started north late the next morning. It was raining hard and my parents were very anxious about Hazel. We got as far as the ferry--somewhere in the general vicinity of Newport News--and sat forever in the car waiting for the queue to start moving.
Before they built a combination span of bridges between the "mainland" of Virginia and the other bit of Virginia at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, the chief route between the coastal Carolinas and Delaware was via the link with the ferries. These were huge and held tons of cars as well as their passengers.
But back to me in the car...I was bored and it was pouring rain and windy but I don't think I was scared. Eventually, "the powers that be" began to allow the people at the front of the queue of cars board the ferry.
I remember tense moments as we moved up in the line. My parents wondered if we were going to get on board in the first load. I liked the ferry ride, so I was definitely on their side when it came to getting on the ferry rather than having to wait for the next one.
Well, we made it. Just one problem--they had no business letting that ferry launch. We had been driving north just one step ahead of the hurricane proper. During the stay at that hotel and then our wait in the queue, Hazel had gained ground on us.
I don't remember this from back then, but my parents used to talk about someone screwing up and letting the ferry load and then clearing it to launch when they had no business doing so.
We were literally just past the point of no return when Hazel's strongest winds struck us. The crew warned the passengers to grab on to something--which everyone did. I had my arms wrapped around a painted metal post. I think my mom was grabbing it up above me. My dad was nearby but not holding on to the same post.
The ferry kept tipping sideways and then up and down. I was terrified. I suspect everyone on board was terrified. We could hear big crashing sounds from below deck. As always, all the vehicles had been chained as much as was possible. But in the midst of a hurricane that didn't make every one of them secure.
Eventually, we made shore on the peninsula. I don't remember positively now but I think we might have been in the eye of Hazel at this point, because the slow slow offloading of the ferry comes back to me without the mental image of frantic tossing and turning. Or maybe we were just really secured to the dock.
Anyway we sat in the car in the dark and waited until the cars ahead of us cleared out and my mom could drive off of the boat and unto the road. Water was everywhere. Branches. All sorts of debris.
A bit after this the second half of Hazel swooped down on us. We were on the road, my mom's headache had returned and water began pouring into the car from tiny openings around the doors. It was virtually impossible to see out of the windows, but we could make out blurred shadows of cars that had stalled in the flood and had been abandoned. Some of these were right in the lanes of traffic of course.
I wasn't much caring about stalled cars. I was standing on the back seat (no, seatbelt restrictions in those days) I was standing and looking down at the water covering the floor, and screaming.
I may have kept shrieking from the southern tip of the peninsula the whole way north.
My mom didn't slow down much less stop the car—just kept dodging around stalled cars and debris—for that whole section of the drive. She used to say that that was what kept us from stalling out.
The next thing I remember is driving up to our house and my -maternal- grandparents racing out the door to greet us.
Later on we learned that my paternal grandparents were safe. The shops and so on, built on the closest barrier island (possibly Ocean Isle?) had been swept away as if they had never existed.
I may have added "point of no return" to my vocabulary earlier than just about any child my age—except for the other kids who rode the ferry that day.
"Hurricane Hazel was the worst hurricane of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season and one of the worst hurricanes of the 20th century. Hazel killed as many as 1,000 people in Haiti before striking the United States just north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and south of Wilmington, North Carolina as a Category 4 hurricane. Nineteen people were killed in North Carolina, and 81 people were killed when it subsequently hit Toronto, Ontario. It is the strongest hurricane ever recorded to strike so far inland."
You may want to read the whole Wiki entry some time.