Date: Mon, 9 Sep
1996 08:27:17 -0400
I'm finally back on-line after Fran blew through Friday AM. Here's What Happened to Me in The Hurricane.
Even as late as 10 PM Thursday, none of the weather reports & warnings gave any indication that Fran would hit the Triangle dead on. There was never any doubt that this was a powerful, dangerous storm but the 10 PM news broadcast showed the eye moving north, pretty much where I-95 goes. That's about 80-90 miles east of the Triangle.
The warning talked about high winds & flooding here, and made it clear that the coastal counties were in for a bad time. Pretty much like we heard for Bertha. The only indication that things might be worse that they were during Bertha was the fact that the ground here was already saturated from heavy rains last week. I expected flooding and that medium-sized trees were more likely to blow over. But even though I tend to over-anticipate possible disasters, I never dreamed things would get as bad as they did.
While I was watching TV Thursday night, my electricity flickered on and off a few times. I heard an explosion that may have been a transformer blowing, but nothing any more serious than that. I went to bed expecting the rest of the night to be windy & rainy, but nothing to cause any concern.
Date: Mon, 9 Sep
1996 08:55:23 -0400
If I had ever been near a hurricane before, I would have known that Fran would give us more than a glancing blow. On Thursday, the air felt more like a semi-solid than a gas & I had woken up with a nasty migraine that seemd to come from the drop in air pressure. My friend in Charlotte who gets infrequent migraines told me that she's only had one severe migraine & that was the day Hugo hit Charlotte.
Shortly after 1 AM Friday, I was jarred awake by roaring winds & rain so heavy it sounded as if someone was spraying the house with a high-pressure hose. The house was pitch black. The cats were cowering under the bed.
I got up and went downstairs to look outside. From my dining room window (faces east) I could see sheets of rain blowing and my neighbors' trees blowing horizontal. The wind was just starting to roar and was getting louder - it really does sound like a train - so I got away from the window. I thought the roar might be coming from a tornado.
I was awake for about 3 hours, ready to grab the cats and head for the downstairs bathroom (interior room, no windows) if things got worse. I eventually went back to sleep.
The next thing I knew was when the phone rang a little after 7 AM - my sister was calling to see if I was alright. The air had an eerie stillness to it.
Date: Mon, 9 Sep
1996 09:34:56 -0400
I still had no electricity. I found my glasses and a battery radio. I looked outside & could see that some telephone-sized pine trees in the neigborhood were missing their tops. I could smell fresh pine wood from where they had broken. I learned for the first time that the eye of the storm had passed directly over us.
By the time I managed to get dressed (thank God for a gas hot water heater) & had checked my house for damage, I discovered that UNC was closed, completely, and that no one was being allowed into Chapel Hill except for medical reasons or to respond to the weather emergency.
My house is fine, except that some screens blew out of the windows (I recovered them all). While things seem very quiet, the winds are still blowing 30 mph. A pine tree has fallen on a neighbor's roof, doing some heavy damage to the house and a gutter has blown off another neighbor's house but there is little other damage on my street.
I go walking around lunch time and start to see how bad things really are. The power is off everywhere. Many trees are down, some were snapped off about 30 feet off the ground. Several huge oaks blew over at the roots. A lot of houses are damaged.
Date: Mon, 9 Sep
1996 12:47:24 -0400
Friday afternoon the sun comes out, and the day is uncommonly beautiful. It's partly the contrast from a few hours earlier but the sky is crystal clear & vividly blue. The air is pleasantly cool.
On Saturday morning, I venture out of the neighborhood. I'm on my way to Winston-Salem to visit my parents and try to find ice. What few stores are open in the Triangle have no ice, bread, milk, eggs, or batteries.
The damage in my neighborhood is minor to what I see elsewhere. All of the traffic lights I pass are out; people have a hard time remembering how to behave at 4-way stops. As I drive west on Highway 54 on my way to the Interstate, I see where the utility wires have been torn down completely by falling trees and on span of wire that is still standing but is covered with several trees from pole to pole. The damage lessens the further west I go. I also see lots of utility trucks, from the NC companies and even more from out-of-state companies, all headed east toward the Triangle. I want to stop & cheer.
I am able to finds lots of ice in W-S, I load up my cooler & one I borrowed from my parents, buy some boxed juice for the kids next door, and get a battery radio that will play w/o earphones.
I make it home safely. Give my neighbors their juice & ice & pack the contents of my freezer into the coolers in a frantic attempt to salvage something. The cool weather is no more. It's 90 degrees & humid. Since I have a gas water heater, I still have hot water. Some neighbors give their kids baths at my house. I have a cookout with two other families on my street. Off in the distance, we can see a streetlight that is working our hopes are raised for an early return to air conditioning. No such luck.
Date: Mon, 9 Sep
1996 13:22:42 -0400
Sunday comes and night falls - still no electricity. I can't log on, it's hot, I'm cranky, and I'm tired of roughing it. I've enjoyed the time I've spent with my neighbors & helping each other out. But I'm ready for to have lights & air again. My friends in Charlotte tell me it was 9 days before their power came back on after Hugo - and they were one of the 1st areas to have power restored. I try not to think about this.
We have a thunder storm with heavy rain around 6 PM, it cools things down nicely. Another storm follows. At least they couldn't knock my power out any worse that it already was.
Monday is here and UNC is on a normal schedule. Most primary & secondary schools are still closed. We have electricity but very few places do. The water in Chapel Hill & Orange County, which UNC uses, isn't safe to drink unless it's been boiled. The water treatment plant went out Friday morning. I'm glad I live in Durham & don't have that to worry about.
The damage on campus is sobering. I didn't see any damage to buildings but trees are down everywhere. The lawns by the Undergraduate Admissions building and McIver dorm are filled with shattered trees. It looks as if a tornado went though there. McCorkle Place, where the Davie Poplar & the Old Well are, have many huge oaks - at least 5 feet in diameter - blown over at the roots. Things look bad but the worst has been cleaned up there are may piles of sawed wood & sawdust, some beside crushed cars. Some roads are still partially blocked.
All in all, I'm thankful to be alive and to have come through this as well as I did. Being hot & loosing a couple of hundred dollars worth of food is minor considering what could have happened. I have my fingers crossed that my electricity will be working when I get home tonight.
I learned a lot about how to prepare for this type of thing from friends who went through Camille in Richmond in 1969. I paid attention to the warnings - I had candles, an oil lamp & oil, bottled water, canned food, batteries, & flashlights. I even filled the bathtub with water when the storm hit in case the water went out completely (so I could at least flush). But there's only so much you can do for a storm like this one.
Fran was barely a hurricane when she came through here - the wind was just 75 mph. Still, it was absolutely terrifying. I hope I never experience anything like this again. I already respected the power of nature; I sure don't need any more object lessons.