Duck empties out, but Pop Scarborough stays on Hurricanes are old hat for 94-year-old Outer Banks resident

August 27, 1998|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

DUCK, N.C. -- To the north, military ships and aircraft were fleeing their bases to escape Bonnie's whirling gyre of water and wind. To the south, the spindly beach houses that usually welcome a steady stream of renters all summer were ghostly in their emptiness.

But Pop Scarborough was holding his ground. The 94-year-old has lost count of how many hurricanes have come and gone over the years, and he was ignoring both the official evacuation order and the pleas of his children to leave his home here on the northern end of the Outer Banks.

"I built this old house myself," Scarborough said. "I know how strong it is. I trust it."

Scarborough, a retired construction worker and carpenter, has survived hurricanes since before they were given names. Back before there was electricity to knock out. He's been watching forecasters try to predict Bonnie's path, but he isn't impressed with their saturation coverage.

"They don't know much more than I do," he said. "You have to kind of figure it out for yourself."

It's somewhat reassuring to other longtime residents of this town to see Pop rocking on his porch, at one of the few old houses to remain on Highway 12.

The town has become rather gentrified in recent years, with upscale restaurants and gift shops catering to the summer people.

Pop's the oldest of one of the old-time families around here -- he can look across the street at both a road that leads to the Atlantic and a two-story complex of restaurants and shops that bear the Scarborough name.

Before Duck was discovered by tourists, Scarborough's father, a commercial fisherman, owned 50 acres. Pop -- his real name is Levin Dunton -- was born in a little house on Scarborough Lane, crossed Highway 12 to build his current house in 1954 and has never lived anywhere else.

The modest, two-story wood house is such an icon to locals that even a new coat of paint can create confusion, said neighbor Bob Evans. "We still call it Pop's red house even though he painted it gray a couple of months ago," said Evans, a Realtor.

Evans said he was planning to stay put just like Pop, unless the winds got really bad. "There's no sense in fighting 140-mile-an-hour winds," he said.

Pop, though, was determined to stay.

"I don't run from none of them," he said, then added, "Well, they make me once in a while."

fTC "They" are his five surviving children -- Pop lost two sons to Lou Gehrig's disease. Daughter Elsie, 69, lives with Pop and Mom, also known as Ethel, 86. The other siblings live in the Outer Banks as well, but in more secure locations. Pop's house backs up to the Currituck Sound, and, with Duck a mere mile wide, the Atlantic Ocean could flood the town.

But Pop and his neighbors find reassurance in the fact that Duck sits on relatively higher ground than other towns on the fragile strip of barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks. Pop estimates his house is 20 feet above sea level.

His house has never been flooded by a hurricane, Pop said. But one did blow off the roof of the little workshop behind his house, where he carves the ducks that he sometimes sells but mostly gives away.

Like other parts of the Outer Banks yesterday, Duck was oddly -- yet somehow pleasantly -- quiet, even as Bonnie was pounding southeastern North Carolina.

The tourists were mostly gone, and those who remained spent the day picking up extra supplies at the few stores that stayed open and walking out to the shore to gawk at the churning gray waters.

A few even took an illicit dip in the water despite continuing swimming bans as the waves rose higher and higher. People on in-line skates and bicycles enjoyed the emptied streets into the afternoon, as Bonnie made landfall farther south and stalled -- rather than speeding toward the Outer Banks as initially predicted.

Pop expected some wet weather, but nothing to compare to what he considers the worst hurricane he's seen, back in August 1933.

"The water came over the beach and flooded the street. That was the worst," he said. There wasn't any electric power to lose back then, and Pop was still able to pump water from his well and his family was fine.

"So maybe," he said of Bonnie, "this won't be too bad."

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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