On Outer Banks of North Carolina, people leave or stay, worry and pray

September 01, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. -- First came the quiet.

At Jockey's Ridge early yesterday, the only movement was the flapping of flags atop boarded-up businesses.

Even the brown pelicans and squawking seagulls had abandoned the Avalon Fishing Pier. And then came the fury.

Emily arrived, swooping and swirling along the southernmost Outer Banks with heavy rains and winds up to 115 mph.

Early last evening the hurricane's center was about 30 miles northeast of Cape Hatteras. It was moving north about 13 mph and was expected to veer northeast. Hurricane-force winds -- over 75 mph -- are expected at Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills through early this morning.

The first hurricane this season to threaten the United States raked along the North Carolina coast, causing floods of up to 8 feet in one town and blasting the roofs off at least two commercial buildings.

Traffic lights blew nearly parallel to the streets, their beams flashing a continual golden caution as winds gusted up to 70 mph.

In preparation for Emily, by mid-day yesterday nearly 80 percent of Dare County's 150,000 people had packed their belongings, boarded up their beach houses and headed off the barrier islands of the Outer Banks.

Along the usually busy beach roads, the bathing suit shops, gift outlets, quick-stop snack bars and restaurants were dark and quiet, their windows boarded or X'ed with tape as though to hide.

Although a few store owners kept their doors open to customers until the last safe moment, most stores were shut tight by 6 p.m. when Emily blew in.

"Historically we have always been open," says Miles Davis, owner of Winks, a landmark general store here. "We haven't shut since my dad started us in 1953."

But inside the stores, shelves were stripped bare -- picked clean by panicky shoppers stocking up on bread, canned goods, bottled water and snack foods. But since Monday, when Dare County officials declared a state of emergency, beer, wine and liquor sat untouched -- their sale forbidden by local ordinance.

Closing up didn't mean losing a sense of humor for some merchants. At Miller's Outer Banks Motor Lodge, the billboard read: "No room for Emily;" Pigman's Bar-B-Que urged, "Go East Emily." Still another told Emily "Go away, we don't need the stress."

Nor did the ban of alcohol sales dim those who like to ride out the storm in style .

At Eric Kirk's house in Kill Devil Hills, two blocks from the beach, as Emily raged, so did the party. Eight beach lifeguards and two dogs holed up with munchies and Busch beer. "We all wanted to stick it out and see what would happen," said James Faison of Richmond, Va.

Outside, the skies -- no longer a hazy summer blue -- turned a harsh white gray.

The ocean water, usually a blue-gray hue, turned a deeper, more foreboding gray. Wind-whipped froth covered the waves as they crashed on the empty beaches.

Those who chose to stay spent much of yesterday tensely scanning the horizon from windows for signs of Emily or were glued to their televisions listening to weather updates.

"The waiting, the watching, that's the worst part," said Patty Kane, a two-year resident of nearby Kitty Hawk.

A letter carrier, Ms. Kane and her 15-year-old daughter live on Ascension Road -- the highest street in Kitty Hawk. They boarded up the windows, filled the bathtub with water in case water supplies fail, and packed irreplaceables and some clothes in the back of their four-wheel drive pick-up truck -- just in case. Then they sat and watched and waited.

"I'll bet a million the hurricane itself won't be worse than the waiting," said Ms. Kane.

RTC Even the waiting for Emily had a few lighter moments. As listeners sat glued to their TV sets awaiting word of Emily, the Weather Channel salted its hurricane updates with an advertisement for a $19.95 video, "Weather Catastrophes."

By midafternoon, Jamie Pilgreen of Williamston, N.C., announced go bankrupt if the hurricane didn't come quickly. The 20-year-old is staying in his parents' summer cottage with four friends who kept eating his extra supplies. "It's our third emergency shopping trip," he said, rushing for the nearest open store.

But mostly, county officials, local police and residents worried and waited the hurricane out.

Even the Kill Devil Hills police expressed concern about their home base as they looked at the increasingly gray skies: Directly over the station sits a huge blue and white water tower. "It's never fallen yet," said Police Chief James Gradeless.

His fears as Emily approached extended beyond the water tower. All day yesterday, he ran the station on a skeleton crew -- ordering most of his men to rest and be ready for the hurricane. But, in the end, he said, "We're at the mercy of the storm."

Indeed, here, where sometimes only a few feet of sand and sea oats separate homes from ocean, nature is given grave respect. After boarding up windows, as one 50-year resident put it, "you can either leave or sit back and pray."

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