Survivors recall Hurricane Isabel

Jeff Aiken says he quickly learned he made the wrong decision by trying to ride out Hurricane Isabel in a house a few hundred feet from the ocean. Isabel roared ashore the Outer Banks in September 2003, carved a new inlet and put 1 million in the dark along the East Coast.

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HATTERAS, N.C. — As time passes, North Carolina residents tend to forget how destructive a hurricane can be. But Jeff Aiken said he never will forget Hurricane Isabel.

In September 2003, Aiken chose to ride out the storm in his home just a few hundred feet from the shoreline.

"I wanted to stay in the strongest structure we owned," he explained.

Isabel roared ashore in the Outer Banks with winds over 100 mph, carving a new inlet out of Hatteras Island and knocking out power to 1 million people along the East Coast.

Aiken and a fellow survivor, Stephen Hissy, recalled their experiences living through Isabel.

"What came ashore was a 25-foot wall of water," Hissy said.

"My wife gathered herself on the third-floor bed in the fetal position with her lifejacket on. She was terrified," Aiken said.

The destruction left in Isabel's aftermath shocked the two men.

"It looked like a bomb had hit Hatteras Island. It was a total wipe-out of Hatteras Village," Hissy said.

"We hadn't seen that kind of devastation, and I don't think anyone had since 1933," Aiken said.

For Hissy, the damage was personal: The tackle shop he owned in Hatteras was destroyed.

"Isabel basically blew out the front window, blew the back wall out and put $126,000 worth of inventory in the sound," he said.

"I lost my livelihood," he continued. "Not only was it a cultural shock, it was a sobering experience."

Both men said they learned lessons about the power of hurricanes from Isabel.

"We underestimated the storm," Aiken said. He quickly realized the decision to stay was the wrong one. "I probably wouldn't have been here had I been expecting this."

Hissy now works for a business owned by someone else.

"Mother Nature is going to win eventually, and that's what happened with my store, with my job, with my business and with my life," he said.

Despite the danger and losses from storms, the Outer Banks residents said they won't be driven away.

"I've got nowhere else I'd rather be. I love it here," Hissy said.

"I'm not fond of storms. I'm a lot more gun-shy than I used to be," Aiken said. "But I'm not going anywhere."


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