Local News

Mopping Up and Adding Up Are Well Under Way

Posted September 15, 1996 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Hurricane Fran's devastation has been the Number One topic in North Carolina for the past week, but now conversation focuses more on the cleanup. How to get 3 feet of sand out of a beach house, where a chain saw blade can be sharpened, how to dispatch the aroma left by food defrosting in a freezer power-less for a week -- or possibly longer.

And everyone is aware of the cost. Of the 22 North Carolinians who died in storm-related circumstances. Of homes, businesses and vehicles damaged, of crop and livestock losses, of personal property that floated out to sea or sank in the storm-related flooding.

Experts still have their sharp pencils out, doing the toting up. Estimates are that the damage in North Carolina alone will probably top $4 billion. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of that total may not be covered by insurance or government. And Fran didn't dally in this state; she roared north to wreak havoc on Virginia, West Virginia, parts of Pennsylvania -- and to cause the Potomac River to spread its flood waters over low-lying areas of Washington, D.C. The overall damage figure will be much higher.

While Fran wasn't the biggest or most damaging hurricane in U.S. history, from a Tar Heel perspective it was the worst to hit the state. Renee Hoffman, a state emergency management spokeswoman said, "It supersedes anything since Hurricane Hazel."

Hazel had slammed into the state most unexpectedly on Oct. 15, 1954. That was a level four storm, one category higher than Fran. The weather forecast, created in decades before Doppler radar and computer tracking, had predicted only strong winds with rain squalls. It was to clear in the afternoon, the forecast said.

Instead, Hazel caught everyone off guard as she wrecked property and killed 19 people in North Carolina, ultimately breaking open a 120-mile-wide swath northward into Canada. A total of 350 people died.

Fran was so severe, people have to go back 42 years to find a comparison.

Now, as then, people ventured forth in the calm after the storm, surveyed the damage and got to work. Governor James B. Hunt has asked that everyone help with the clean-up and Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer encouraged city residents to pitch in.

The city's Pullen Park, next to the North Carolina State University campus, took a lot of tree damage. Armed with chain saws and trash bags, a phalanx of volunteers came out Saturday to put the park in more normal condition. The Pullen Park contingent was among literally thousands of volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to work in neighborhoods, parks and greenways across the state.

In Orange County, volunteers gathered so much debris that the road to the landfill was packed with vehicles ready to deposit even more. Students pitched in at UNC-Chapel Hill to clean up the campus.

In Burgaw, in Pender County, Samaritan's Purse was removing fallen trees and patching roofs. The organization is headed by evangelist Franklin Graham.

The Red Cross has set up shelters and aid stations in several locations from the Piedmont to the coast. National Guardsmen have been clearing debris from schoolyards. In Durham, the guardsmen used chain saws to remove the debris in Maplewood Cemetery.

And everywhere, neighbors have been working together. They've shared food, generators and air conditioning, straightened up their streets, and remembered the elderly or frail who aren't up to dealing with Fran's fury -- or up to dealing with the occasional con artist who inevitably tries to make a bad situation even worse.

Tree removal businesses are swamped with people begging for trees to be taken off houses, lifted from cars, removed from driveways. It's become normal to drive streets piled high at the curb with tree branches and trunks. And the massive crane in a neighbor's yard, which two weeks ago would have drawn stares and much comment, now draws only the briefest look.

The crane is but one more tool for the clean-up -- a project spawned in a few hours' fury that will take weeks or possibly months to complete. But North Carolinians have begun the work in earnest.