Memories of Hurricane Fran linger 15 years later

Posted July 28, 2011
Updated August 23, 2011

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— Two powerful hurricanes took aim at North Carolina 15 years ago, including one of the most devastating storms to ever hit the state: Hurricane Fran.

July 12, 1996, brought Hurricane Bertha, a Category 2 storm. It destroyed 5,000 homes in the United States, mostly in North Carolina.

Then, in early September, Hurricane Fran loomed. It was a Category 3 storm, bigger than Hurricane Hugo or Andrew.

Fran roared ashore near Bald Head Island on Sept. 5, 1996, packing winds of 115 mph.

Half a million people rushed inland, but hurricane-force winds and gusts followed them as far as Raleigh, Fayetteville and Goldsboro.

"Close enough for government work, we have hurricane-force conditions here right now," a soaked, poncho-covered WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel declared during live coverage of Fran.

The storm dumped 8.8 inches of rain on the Triangle, then the highest rainfall ever recorded in the area.

At daybreak on Sept. 6, major streets were flooded, almost all of Wake County was without power, and not one of 420 traffic lights in Raleigh was working. Raleigh firefighters got nearly 700 calls for help in the next two days.

Damage covered all 891 square miles of Wake County. The storm created 3.5 million cubic yards of debris – four times more than Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Scenes like this were a dime a dozen after Hurricane Fran. Hurricane Fran terrifies 15 years later

"There's more damage than I've ever seen," then-Gov. Jim Hunt said in the aftermath. "It looks like it's been bombed. Every block's got terrific damage."

Seeing the damage was a visceral surprise, even after an accurate forecast of the wind strength, Fishel recalled a few months after the hurricane.

"I don't think anybody, myself included, translated those numbers into what the landscape looked like the next morning," he said. "When we all got up in the light of day and we looked around, it's like, 'Holy cow, a 79-mph wind gust did that?'"

The North Carolina coast was also devastated.

"A number of houses, I think, are destroyed," Hunt said. "But also up and down the coast, we saw an awful lot of places where the beachfront's just gone."

Fran killed 24 people, including four people in Wake County, and caused an estimated $2.3 billion worth of damage in North Carolina.

For the first time in state history, a state of emergency was declared in all 100 counties.

But there'll never be another hurricane Fran again. The damage caused by the storm was so severe that the National Weather Service retired the name.


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  • happy2.0 Aug 23, 2011

    I'll never forget the house shaking all night long. Lost power for 2 weeks. I really don't want to go thru it again, but I can guarantee, I'll start preparing on Wednesday if the storm hasn't changed directions.

  • tiggerbeth Aug 2, 2011

    I remember standing outside at night and I couldn't believe how completely black it was without the ambient light. Then I helped hand out ice to neighbors and got heat stroke because it was so frickin' hot. Ahhh, memories...

  • Skywatch_NC Jul 29, 2011

    I believe they have the year wrong for hurricane Hugo. Hugo hit in our area on 9/22/89. I know this because it sent me into labor with my 1st child...

    You're correct

    The time frame of Hugo was September 17-24, 1989.

  • Willie_11 Jul 29, 2011

    All hype....?? psffft - you don't know jack, buddy

  • Wendellcatlover Jul 29, 2011

    I believe they have the year wrong for hurricane Hugo. Hugo hit in our area on 9/22/89. I know this because it sent me into labe with my 1st child...

  • autismawareness Jul 29, 2011

    i remember thinking how much noise my generator made in our quiet neighborhood; and how unprepared people were. not any more, they learned.

  • monkeyboy Jul 29, 2011

    lived next to rex hospital, slept through the storm and had power back on the next day.

    gotta love how wral gets the fear-mongering stories out there when there's no spectacular murder trial going on...

  • nclissy79 Jul 29, 2011

    I'm with you JAT...I'm old enough to say "15 years ago..." ugh.

  • John Sawtooth Jul 29, 2011

    My first hurricane. I spoke with my sister in Greenville around 11:30 as it arrived there, then I lost power and went to my closet shelter. Later I awoke to howling wind and even stepped out onto my sheltered front step near its peak. When the wind died at the eye, it never restarted (over Cary).

    In the morning's eerie silence and humidity, I drove from Cary to North Raleigh to check on my mom. Strange how little problem I had making that drive.

  • chauncey7381 Jul 29, 2011

    Hubby jumped on the Bobcat and cleared trees off of Shotwell Rd, Grasshopper Rd, and Major Slade Rd surrounding the family farm. At that time we were living in the beach house overlooking the pond, the house swayed. We watched the wind push our trailered boat some 75 feet, we sat in the car listening to the radio around 3am, sat in the eye. Destruction galore, no power for 11 days, we bathed in the pond, grilled out a lot and had our first child 9 months later.