Local News

Fran and Bertha: Recalling the "One-Two" Punch

Posted September 3, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Last year, the peak hurricane months packed a one-two punch that rocked the North Carolina coast, first with Bertha, then again with Fran.

Both were big storms that washed away homes and destroyed lives, but what lessons have been learned since then? What's been done to ensure we're better prepared in the future?

WRAL-TV5'sDavid Crabtree revisited the coast to find that the Surf City Pier has re-opened, families and children are back at the beach, and even the sea oats look better than they have in years. Everything is far from being back to normal, though.

Jesse Satterwhite, 75, of Knightdale, has owned this Surf City cottage for 30 years. Two days after Fran he returned to see what was left of it and found only a pile of rubble that was once his deck. The cottage itself was off its foundation and cracked right down the center seams. Satterwhite also noticed something was missing -- the view from his window.

On the night of the storm a 30 foot wall of water came through the area, pushing one beachfront home 100 feet into another home knocking it another 30 feet away. All that's left from the original location is the foundation under the sand. All that's left of the house that caused all the damage are pieces of wood now occasionally found buried here.

It took months to settle with his unsurance company but with the help of his friends Satterwhite is re-building -- one board at a time. Fran brought minor changes to the building codes on Topsail Island. Windows have to be stronger and the required angles for new roofs have been changed to keep the wind from ripping them off. For those who want to move a home away from the eroding coastline, new rules mandate a minimum of 90 feet at an average cost of $1,000 per foot.

Satterwhite says he wants to stay right where he is because his place has been a home away from home too long to give it up.

As for the 1997 hurricane season, September is getting off to a historically correct start. It's usually the most active month in the tropics.

According to the National Hurricane Center, there have been 200 September hurricanes in the past 100 years.

The United States has managed to dodge the bullet in August of this year. It's historically the second most active hurricane month. Luckily, only Danny stirred up trouble, and that was in July, which usually isn't an extremely active month.There have only been 37 July hurricanes since 1886. Records show an average of about one east coast hurricane every October.

Up and down North Carolina's coast, erosion is a major problem, but nowhere is that more evident than on the north end of Wrightsville Beach.

Last year's storms knocked out more than 50 yards of beach that separates Shell Island Resort from the Mason Inlet. Now, there's concern about saving more than just the resort. The erosion is threatening a road and about a dozen houses on the west side of the island.

Shell Island and Wrightsville Beach leaders recently organized a task force to discuss ways to stop the erosion in its tracks.

Photographer:Joe Frieda