July 14, 1996 in Nation/World

Storm Slaps Islanders Who Tarried Bertha Hits Topsail Island, Destroying 40 To 50 Homes

Paul Nowell Associated Press
 

About 100 hardy souls refused to join the 40,000 tourists who were evacuated from Topsail Island as Hurricane Bertha bore down on North Carolina’s coast. Then Bertha’s eye, with top wind up to 115 mph, cut right across the narrow sliver of sand and beachfront condos, knocking fishing piers into the ocean and destroying 40 to 50 homes.

The storm surge sent ocean water washing four feet deep through this tiny beach town.

“At the height of the storm, they wanted off. So my men tried to get them out,” said police Chief D.H. Jones.

They got most of the 100 to safety, plucking them out of collapsing houses and marooned cars and taking them across a narrow bridge to the mainland. The effort left all five of the town’s police cars disabled with flat tires. Nobody was killed.

Jones said he didn’t think any of the people they rescued would try to ride out another storm. “For a little town like this, we were totally devastated,” he said.

Bertha raked North Carolina’s barrier islands, then weakened considerably as it moved north into Virginia. On Saturday, it was dumping up to 5 inches of rain from Delaware Bay to Massachusetts.

At midday Saturday, it was still a tropical storm, with sustained wind blowing at 50 mph, centered about 35 miles south-southwest of New York City. Forecasters expected Bertha to weaken into a tropical depression during the night or on Sunday.

One tornado spun off by Bertha destroyed three mobile homes and damaged seven more early Saturday near Edwardsville, Va., injuring nine people. Another near Smithfield, Va., destroyed trees but did little damage to homes along a half-mile path 100 yards wide Friday night.

“We’re all alive, that’s the important thing,” said Faye Dvorak, whose property lost nine trees to the Smithfield twister.

Most of the evacuation orders that forced about 250,000 people onto safer land in North Carolina were lifted Saturday, a beautiful sunny day, although only residents were being allowed into some beach towns with widespread damage or power outages.

A shrimp boat was still the only way to Topsail Island on Saturday, but 91-year-old Daphne Blizzard was unimpressed. “I’ve seen them all,” said Blizzard, both proprietor and maid at Blizzard’s Apartments.

More than a quarter-million customers were without power in the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Saturday. Carolina Power & Light was bringing in repair crews from as far away as Georgia and Florida.

“I think we did dodge a bullet in the main, but a lot of people got hurt and we’ve got to help them dig out,” North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said after flying over the damaged areas Saturday. “Now we’ve got to get the beaches open so we can get the tourists back.”

Bertha was blamed for nine deaths, mostly in the Caribbean. The only one in North Carolina was a woman killed when her car slid into oncoming traffic in Kitty Hawk.

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