N.C. remembers Hurricane Hazel's death, destruction

Posted October 15, 2009

— Thursday marks 55 years since Hurricane Hazel struck North Carolina, which was one of the deadliest and costliest storms in state history.

Hazel hit the southern coast of North Carolina at the worst time: the year's highest lunar tide, called the "marsh hen tide"by local hunters. The storm surge was a staggering 18 feet at Calabash.

Winds were clocked at 150 mph on Holden Beach, and even as far inland as Goldsboro and Kinston, winds whipped at 120 mph. The storm still had hurricane-strength winds when it roared through Raleigh.

As it flattened everything in its path, Hazel quickly earned a nickname: The Bulldozer. Trees snapped like dry spaghetti, littering highways by the thousands. Former soldiers likened the damage to a scene out of World War II.

Nineteen people died, and more than 200 people were hurt during Hazel's march across eastern North Carolina. More than 15,000 homes and other buildings were destroyed, pegging property losses at $136 million.

Hazel became a new point of reference for North Carolinians and created a high water mark for misery. But as in all catastrophes, heroes emerged from the rubble, and dramatic rescues pumped a sense of hope into the Carolina psyche.

A year later, three more hurricanes – Connie, Diane and Ione – pounded the state but did not hold a candle to Hazel.


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  • NCMOMof3 Oct 15, 2009

    I wasn't born yet but I remember my Granny talking about it quite often. I have some pictures taken of the aftermath of Hazel in Scotland Neck in my image gallery.

  • westral Oct 15, 2009

    I was not born but remember my grandmother talking about they had to go stay at J&M Chevrolet in Zebulon it was so bad. She said it was the worst she had ever seen.

  • koolady Oct 15, 2009

    I was 7 years old and living in PA. The winds threw my Aunt across the street and she landed in a gutter with a broken leg.

  • sunneyone Oct 15, 2009

    I think back then it was worse because these days, hopefully, NC is better prepared. At least it has seemed that way with Fran, Floyd, and the other recent ones.

  • whocares Oct 15, 2009

    I was 6 years old and in the first grade. My dad came to school to pick me up because he knew he was not going to be home for quite a long time. He worked for Duke Power and he knew what was going to happen was going to be bad. He took me to my grandmother's house and told me to stay there until my mom came from work. My sister was in kindergarten and he left her there because it was safe. I still can't get over the fact that she slept through Hazel. I remember the trees falling and I especially remember a man up the street was killed by a tree falling on him. We didn't see my dad for 5 days as he was working to get the power back on to the people in Durham. I am glad that I haven't had that esxperience again. I know Fran was bad, but Hazel was terrible.

  • 6079 SMITH W Oct 15, 2009

    Before my time...I remember Dennis Rogers writing in his column about that morning as he was waiting for the bus in Wilson. He saw a 55 gallon drum fly by well off the ground.

  • meh2 Oct 15, 2009

    I remember the pine trees in the back yard nearly bending double.

    Good thing we have Al Gore saving us from such fierce storms now.

  • Igor Oct 15, 2009

    Dad lived in little Washington when Hazel went through...still talks about how strong it was

  • Dalphine Oct 15, 2009

    I remember my mother talking about Hurricane Hazel with all the damage in Snow Hill. I do not remember because I was a toddler.

  • grnpnd7 Oct 15, 2009

    I was in the second grade at Belfast School. Daddy came and picked us up that morning, which in itself was a special treat. We had no idea what a hurricane was. It did a lot of damage in the area. When the eye passed we thought it was over and went out to the packhouse to grade some tobacco; the wind got so bad we had to go back to the house. I remember a neighbor of ours was stranded up a path, and the water was so deep Daddy took a tractor and brought Mrs. Flossie and her little girl out on the back of a trailer. The trailer was floating in the deep water and they were both crying.