Since hurricane season is upon us, it got me started thinking about Hurricane Hazel.
This huge storm started forming on Oct. 5, 1954. After killing nearly 1,000 people in Haiti, it regained strength over the Atlantic and came ashore along the North Carolina/South Carolina line near Calabash as a Category 4 storm. The winds were up to 130 mph which produced waves of up to 18 feet high. The wind and waves destroyed or severally damaged most of the buildings in its path. In Long Beach, only five of the 357 buildings were left standing and in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina approximately 80 percent of the waterfront dwellings were destroyed.
There was also a lot of damage inland. Robbins recorded 11.3 inches of rainfall and Carthage received 9.7 inches. Wind gusts of approximately 120 mph were recorded in Kinston, Goldsboro and Faison. There were 19 fatalities in North Carolina alone.
When this dangerous storm came ashore, my family lived in Lumberton and I had not yet celebrated my fifth birthday. In spite of my young age at the time, I have some vivid memories of the day the storm hit our area. I can still remember how the trees blew over so far they almost touched the ground.
My daddy had gone on to work that morning, just like usual, because we didn’t expect Hazel to hit Lumberton like it did. When the winds and rain got so severe, Mama had us get under the kitchen table. I know I was petrified from fright and I’m sure Mama and my brothers probably felt the same way. I was expecting one of those trees to come crashing through our roof at any time. Looking back now, I know if a tree had come crashing down; that kitchen table we were hiding under would have provided very little protection.
If you know anything about hurricanes, you know that there is a calm period in there when the eye of the storm comes over. During that calm period, we all got out from under the kitchen table and started outside to check on the damage. Just as we walked out onto our front porch, a car pulled up into our driveway. When our daddy got out of that car, I immediately felt like everything was going to be okay. Daddy said he had to drive around downed power poles and power lines and fallen trees and limbs to get home, but he was determined to get home and check on his family. We were all glad he came home because it seemed like just having Daddy around made us feel safe.
Of course, the first thing he did was to make us all hurry back inside. He told us that the back side of the storm was headed our way and it could be just as bad as the front side. He told us to sit on the floor in the heating hall because that was probably the safest place in our house. The back side of Hazel was a really big blow also, but just didn’t seem quite so bad because Daddy was there with us.
After the storm had completely passed over, we picked up limbs and debris in our yard and took it out to the curb for pickup. Then we all piled into our car and rode around to check out the damage. We had some good friends who had a rather large farm outside of town, so we made sure that they had survived the storm and to see if they needed help with any of their animals.
One of the stories we heard later on around town was about a mule that had a very bad experience during the hurricane. It seems that this particular mule was down on the ground when the storm started, but when it was over he somehow ended up on the roof of the barn! I don’t know if that really happened, but if it did; that’s certainly a question to ponder. How would you get a mule down off of the roof of your barn?
The next weekend we rode down to the North Carolina beaches to see the damage there. We didn’t have any property there because we were too poor for that. We did have friends who had places at the beach however, and it was sad to see all the flattened houses and buildings. We loved to go spot fishing in the fall but now all of the piers were gone. In some places there were posts sticking up out of the water where the piers used to be and sometimes there were some boards heading out toward the water and then the rest of the pier had just disappeared out into the deep blue sea.
With all of the loss of life and property that occurred during Hurricane Hazel, I know that God really watched over my family and kept us safe. One of us could easily have been listed among those 19 fatalities but instead we all lived to see another day. My earthly father could not have really kept me safe like I thought he could at the time. I do know that he would have done anything within his power to try and do so. It was so wonderful having a father who loved us like he did for and I’m thankful for the 75 years that he lived on this earth!
I hope and pray that I don’t live to see another big blow like Hurricane Hazel come across North Carolina. We could certainly use some rain but I don’t believe we could handle all three inches, even in Richmond County.
Azalea Bolton is a resident of Richmond County and a member of the Story Spinners of Laurinburg, Richmond County Historical Society and Richmond County Writer’s Club.