BUXTON — When a hurricane heads our way, people on the coast rush to hardware stores to stock up on plywood to board up their houses. But what do you do to save the tallest lighthouse on the East Coast from a hurricane, especially when its in the middle of a move?
The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is perched atop a temporary foundation awaiting its move inland. As hurricane season gets underway, there are questions about its stability.
For nearly 130 years, the lighthouse has weathered wind, rain and surf. It even made it through some of our fiercest hurricanes.
Now the lighthouse sits on a temporary foundation as it waits to be moved inland. Is it in danger if a hurricane hits now?
"A lot of people are asking that question," says site supervisor Skellie Hunt.
Hunt says hurricane-force winds should not be a problem. Weather instruments at the lighthouse have clocked several 100 mile-per-hour gusts over the past few months.
"The fact that it's a cylinder, it's round, the wind doesn't have the same effect it would have on a square structure," explains Hunt.
Hunt says wind pressure at the base would only amount to about two to three pounds per square inch. The real problem, he says, would be the surf.
Although the dunes protecting the lighthouse are 15-feet higher than ever before, the base of the lighthouse is six-feet smaller.
Hunt says the concern is that a storm surge could wash away the sand under the temporary steel foundation.
To avoid that, bulldozers would be brought in to pile sand on top of the foundation.
"Of course, it'd be a chore to clean all that sand out -- it'd be a horrible process," he says. "But it would certainly be a lot easier than picking up a lighthouse."
The temporary steel base is actually wider in diameter than the original base, so that should help as long as crews can keep the sand underneath from washing away
In addition to the weather instruments on top of the lighthouse, there are also sensors to detect if the structure shifts or moves at all.