Relieved residents pick up the pieces along Carolina coast Change in the weather to blue skies, sunshine eases cleanup effort

July 14, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

KURE BEACH, N.C. -- Patricia Klonoski took one look yesterday morning at what Hurricane Bertha did to her one-story clapboard cottage and felt like going back to bed.

She saw a 4-by-5-foot hole in the roof, a crumpled storage shed in the yard, and front-porch latticework and roofing shingles scattered everywhere.

"I won't stay for the next one," said Klonoski, who rode out the storm on this barrier island with her family in their cottage a block from the ocean. "I kept thinking the roof was going to blow off. The wind was howling. It was real scary."

Relieved residents all over the Cape Fear area south of Wilmington, where Bertha made landfall Friday afternoon, shoveled debris and cut downed trees yesterday. They were rewarded with a gorgeous day: sunshine, clear skies, a southwest breeze and highs in the upper 80s.

Kure Beach, a town of 600 year-round residents on Pleasure Island 15 miles south of Wilmington, appeared to be hardest hit. Only the tip of the town's wooden fishing pier was left standing. Its pylons and crossbeams littered the beach.

The roof of one two-story house had been flung off like a Frisbee and lay in the yard. Front porches hung by a thread from other houses, and roofing material was scattered all over town. Power was still out, and property owners who had fled the storm were kept from returning to their homes while utility crews made safety checks.

But authorities reported no injuries, despite winds estimated at more than 100 miles per hour.

"This was one of the worst I've seen," said Gene Mullen, a general contractor who has lived on the island since 1970. "This one crept up on us. I haven't seen such massive waves."

Mullen said the houses he has under construction, boarded up and braced for Bertha, weathered the storm well. Most homes here and at nearby Carolina Beach received minor or no damage.

Many who rode out the storm decided to stay when Bertha was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of about 80 miles per hour. When the storm suddenly grew stronger Friday, it was too late to evacuate.

Some, like Danny McLaughlin, a Carolina Beach landlord, took a fatalistic attitude.

"I'm a veteran. I've been shot, hit and blown up, and I figured if it was my time to go, I'd go with a smile," he said.

But Jerry Pilcher, who owns two motels and three other rental properties on the island, said he stayed to try to minimize any water damage if the wind ripped his roofs apart.

Pilcher said it would cost him $4,000 a day every day his motels were closed. He worried that the destruction of the Kure Beach fishing pier would harm tourism.

"The pier is the key to the island's economy," he said. "We all survive mainly because of the pier. It is a major attraction from September through November," when anglers catch spot, bluefish, sea trout, flounder and a few king mackerel. Pilcher said the pier's owner, Mike Robertson, had vowed to rebuild.

The motel owner was angry that authorities kept property owners and workers away. "My wife and employees are not on the island, and they need to be here to clean up," he said.

Island residents trying to get home fumed yesterday afternoon at a police roadblock along Route 421, south of Wilmington.

T. L. Crews Sr. made a 250-mile, all-night trip from Winston-Salem to check on his family's Carolina Beach trailer, only to find himself stuck at the roadblock since 6 a.m.

"Ain't nothing we can do. We're just poor, stupid taxpayers," he said.

Patricia Angle said she and her family evacuated their Carolina Beach home as authorities requested at 6 p.m. Thursday, spent two nights in a motel and were broke.

"We're homeless tonight if they don't let us back home," she said.

New Hanover County authorities said late in the afternoon that people with proof of residency would be allowed back on the island beginning at 6 p.m.

Randy Ackley, a Red Cross spokesman, said more than 2,200 people spent Friday night in North Carolina shelters manned largely by volunteers. He said the shelters would stay open "as long as people need them and don't have a place to move back to."

Bob Chaimowitz, a rod and reel repairman, rode out the storm at Carolina Beach, but made the mistake yesterday of venturing off the island in search of breakfast. Then police wouldn't let him return.

"They treat us like a bunch of convicts," he complained.

Wrightsville Beach, a barrier island east of Wilmington, reopened to residents about noon and to tourists shortly afterward. Power was restored, surfers took to the Atlantic, people with metal detectors scoured the beach and the town looked almost normal.

But Mercer's fishing pier, a major Wrightsville Beach attraction, was heavily damaged; swimming was banned because of ocean debris. One sailboat on the island's west side was cast into the marsh.

The storm's biggest impact was severe beach erosion, residents said. "There's beach exposed now that people haven't seen in 10 or 20 years," said Officer Trey Jordan of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department.

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