Published: 2020-08-04 05:55:00
Updated: 2020-08-04 21:02:47
By Monica Laliberte, WRAL executive producer/5 on Your Side reporter, & Jessica Patrick, WRAL multiplatform producer
Southport, N.C. — Hurricane Isaias severely damaged dozens of boats and several docks at two marinas in Southport.
Sailboats and motorboats were left in a pile, with portions of docks on top of them at the South Harbour Village Marina, at 4909 Fish Factory Road in Southport.
"As you look at these boats, they're parked in a way they're not designed to be parked," said Chris Hildreth, who lives in the area. "It's going to be pretty substantial, if not catastrophic [damage] for most of these boat owners."
Hildreth said winds from the storm were clocked on a boat at the marina at 94 mph, and they whipped straight through the south-facing marina.
"The wind was ferocious," he said. "The rain was sideways. The water was stacking in the marina. The lines on the sailboats and the boats themselves were whistling and making noise, and any sail that was loose, the flapping, the sound was pretty loud."
The rush of wind and water caused one dock to buckle and slam into other docks and boats, Hildreth said.
"We had to spend the initial time identifying folks who live aboard and who we knew were aboard on boats. Got those guys to safe land, and after that, we just had to ride it out," he said.
Boat owner Chris Johnson said a neighbor called and told him several pilings sheared off the dock and a large portion broke off with his boat and others tied to it while the wind whipped from Isaias.
On the way to check on his boat, Johnson said he almost crashed into a large tree blocking a road in Southport.
Johnson said the damage to the dock was worse than he thought.
"It's a lot worse than I pictured in my mind," he said. "It's really a giant pile of broken dock and boats at this point."
Johnson said he was able to locate his boat in the messy pile but couldn't assess the damage.
"I think people are going to be really shocked," he said. "I had no idea [Isaias] was going to do this."
Southport Alderman Marc Spencer said being east of the eye of the storm, which made landfall at Ocean Isle Beach, created "damage that I've never seen in my lifetime," even though Isaias was only a Category 1 hurricane.
Part of a provision dock where boats can fuel up was shoved into a pile of boats at Southport Marina, at 606 W. West St., and two sailboats were tossed into a nearby marsh.
"The concern now is to get these things untangled ... before their batteries run down because they've got pumps that are pumping them out, making sure that they don't sink," Spencer said.
Southport saw minimal damage elsewhere, he said.
"Honestly, I believe there will be more damage in that marina than all of Southport," he said. "The marina has taken the true hit today."
The boats are home to some people, said Hildreth, adding that he's heartbroken for their loss.
"We're very fortunate that we didn't lose any lives and that we didn't have a fire," he said.
Rick Donaldson and his wife are among those who live on their boat, and they stayed there during Isaias.
"It was pretty bad," Donaldson said. "The boats were breaking loose. We were heeled over, ... then all of the dock, the transient dock, came around and hit us all."
Hildreth predicted that damage will be in the millions of dollars and will take months to repair.
"When you look at how these boats are stacked up and the damage, there’s a log jam," he said. "There’s no boats getting out of this marina any time soon."
In addition to the damage, the storm brought an invasion of grasshoppers, with thousands clinging to the wrecked boats.
"It’s like a pestilence. I’ve never seen anything like it," Hildreth said.