N.C. remembers Hurricane Hazel's death, destruction

Posted October 15, 2009 5:59 a.m. EDT

— Thursday marks 55 years since Hurricane Hazel struck North Carolina, which was one of the deadliest and costliest storms in state history.

Hazel hit the southern coast of North Carolina at the worst time: the year's highest lunar tide, called the "marsh hen tide"by local hunters. The storm surge was a staggering 18 feet at Calabash.

Winds were clocked at 150 mph on Holden Beach, and even as far inland as Goldsboro and Kinston, winds whipped at 120 mph. The storm still had hurricane-strength winds when it roared through Raleigh.

As it flattened everything in its path, Hazel quickly earned a nickname: The Bulldozer. Trees snapped like dry spaghetti, littering highways by the thousands. Former soldiers likened the damage to a scene out of World War II.

Nineteen people died, and more than 200 people were hurt during Hazel's march across eastern North Carolina. More than 15,000 homes and other buildings were destroyed, pegging property losses at $136 million.

Hazel became a new point of reference for North Carolinians and created a high water mark for misery. But as in all catastrophes, heroes emerged from the rubble, and dramatic rescues pumped a sense of hope into the Carolina psyche.

A year later, three more hurricanes – Connie, Diane and Ione – pounded the state but did not hold a candle to Hazel.