Local News

The Tar Heel Coast Takes a Trashing

Posted July 12, 1996

— July 13, 1996, 12:52 p.m. EDT

Like a visitor everyone is glad to see depart, Bertha has left the Carolinas -- but she didn't leave things as she found them. Instead, she tore up parts of the North Carolina coast so severely many of the beaches are still closed. Damage assessments are under way.

Meanwhile, Bertha is imposing herself farther north along the Eastern seaboard. Ranked as a tropical storm, rather than the hurricane she was Friday, Bertha is expected to continue to leave damage in her wake, but not with the force she brought to the Carolina coast.

With power lines down, and trees and sand deposits blocking roads, some beaches remain closed to property owners as well as vacationers. However, Sunset, Ocean Isle and Holden Beaches were open as of 10 a.m. Saturday to everyone. Long Beach, Yaupon and Caswell Beaches opened to everyone at noon Saturday. Bald Head Island is closed until the damage assessment is complete. It is still without power, trees are down and roads are impassable.

In New Hanover County, Fort Fisher, Kure and Carolina Beaches are closed to everyone. The county commissioners have not decided when to allow access. As of 10:30 Saturday morning, the bridge to Carolina Beach remained closed and traffic was backed up for a considerable distance north on US 421. Wrightsville Beach opened at noon to residents and people who have property interests on the island, provided they have proof of ownership. Electrical service was restored to Wrightsville as of 10 Saturday morning.

Topsail Beach and Surf City, both of which were hard hit, probably will not reopen until Monday. Power is still out. There is no information available just yet on Del Mar Beach.

In Onslow County, no time has been given for access to West Onslow Beach.

In Carteret County, the towns of Emerald Isle, Indian Beach and Salter Path are closed to everyone. No time has been given for access; earliest would be possibly on Sunday. The Atlantic Beach bridge is open to Pine Knoll Shores and Atlantic Beach residents only, no others are allowed across. Morehead City and Beaufort are open to everyone.

Ocracoke is open to residents only. Access is by Swans Quarter/Cedar Island Ferry. The island did not have full electrical power as of 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Dare County, which sustained minimal damage, is open. However, due to such damage as did occur, it's slow going in Buxton, Rodanthe, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Duck.

Over much of the North Carolina coast, a booming Bertha managed to destroy houses, erode stretches of beach, down trees, flood roads, break sturdy fishing piers into toothpicks, rip roofs and batter boats and cars. Power outages, some still ongoing, were reported at the coast, at the inland city of New Bern and as far west as Wake and Johnston Counties.

Owners of beach homes and businesses were understandably concerned about what might await them today. Surf City was particularly hard hit, with reports of at least 50 homes damaged or destroyed, and streets pockmarked by craterlike holes.

Topsail Island also took Bertha's direct force. It was hit by a 20-foot storm surge, and 4 feet on sand cover some roads. On North Topsail, so many trees are down local officials are having a difficult time getting anywhere to see how extensive the damage may be. Power is out. A sheriff's department radio operator said people should not expect access to the area before Monday at the earliest. Sand deposits are covering many roads. Many mobile homes have been blown off their foundations, turned on their sides or flipped onto their roofs.

South Topsail was much more seriously hit. Part of the Jolly Roger pier was destroyed; several feet of sand are on Ocean Boulevard. There are many downed power lines, some homes with roofs partially torn off, and lots of sound-side flooding.

Emerald Isle's police chief said it was the worst storm damage he has seen there in 15 years. "It's all torn up. No power, the roads are impassable. Lots of roofs have been blown off, there's a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The Emerald Isle highrise bridge is closed to all traffic, including property owners with passes. It's expected to stay shut until tomorrow."

Carteret County, which includes Morehead City, Beaufort, Atlantic Beach and Pine Knoll Shores, experienced heavy damage, although early reports from Atlantic Beach indicate the damage there wasn't as bad as feared. Atlantic Beach is closed until Monday. All highrise bridges are closed, although some may open late Sunday afternoon. Electricity is spotty. A lot of downed trees are blocking roads. In Beaufort, some boats have been washed up onto the main road through town. There are a lot of trees down in Beaufot, and the power outage is widespread.

Carolina Beach is closed until Monday. The huge fishing pier is 2/3rds destroyed. Cars are buried by sand; the road running closest to the beach is also buried. Some roads are flooded. Businesses in the downtown area are damaged, although it is too early to say how badly.

At Jubilee Park in Carolina Beach, a Ferris wheel toppled onto a carousel, smashing several of the ride's horses. A train ride nearby fell onto its side.

In Washington, the Pamlico Queen, a dinner boat, broke from its moorings and crashed into the US 17 bridge.

Depending on the area damage and the local police force's assessment of potential safety problems, residents and tourists may be allowed back into some beach communities today.

New Hanover county officials said Wilmington escaped serious damage, but that nearby beachfront communities were swamped with water and there were reports of damage to homes, piers and businesses.

There is a lot of water on the roads, especially near Shell Island, where at least 40 feet of beach has been eroded. Several hundred feet of beach are left. It is hoped that electricity and water will be back on line by 8 tonight. No injuries were reported.

Kure Beach mayor Betty Medlin said, "There's an awful lot of damage." Kure Beach pier is gone, the roads are impassable, there's no power or water. The elecricity may be out for the next 24 hours. A strict curfew is in effect for the next 48 hours, possibly longer.

"Everything's just torn apart," said Allen Sipe, who ventured out of his house to survey the damage in his Kure Beach neighborhood. Sipe said at least three piers were damaged, and said of one neighbor's house, "It looks like you hit it with a wrecking ball."

Although Dare County registered little damage, it did record the only fatality. An Elizabeth City woman was killed in a car accident about 6 p.m. Friday. Dare County beaches have reopened, but swimming is banned until Sunday, due to the chance of riptides and strong undertow.

North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt is touring the beaches by air this morning. He has waived the weight restrictions on tractor-trailers bringing materials for reconstruction. The order allows food, equipment and supplies for hurricane relief efforts to travel over the weight limit in the state. On entering the state, over-weight trucks must stop at the first available weight station and produce identification that the load is being used for hurricane relief.

Bertha didn't leave her mark only on the coast. In the Triangle area, which comprises Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary, high winds and heavy rains produced damage. The roof was torn off Cardinal Apartments in Raleigh. At the N.C. State Fairgrounds in West Raleigh, the roof was torn off a horse barn. No peoples or horses were hurt. At the World of Learning Day Care Center, a tree fell on the building. All 144 children and their teachers were unhurt.

Approximately 250,000 people were evacuated from the coastal area. Many of them continue to stay in shelters or at hotels and motels that were away from the storm's path


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