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East Coast Residents Confront Devastation Left In Fran’s Wake Hundreds Of Thousands Without Power, Property Damage Will Be In The Hundreds Of Millions

SUNDAY, SEPT. 8, 1996

Residents of this barrier island community, still reeling from Hurricane Bertha, got their first, stunned looks at Fran’s devastation Saturday: 20 oceanfront houses in a row obliterated, streets covered with so much water that fish were jumping in them.

It was clear that Bertha was just a warmup act for people here. This time, it will be much harder to bounce back.

“It’s just so bad you can’t imagine it,” homeowner Marvin Terrell told his daughter over his cellular phone as he eased his four-wheel-drive truck over the wreckage. “I’m one street away from the beach and the first row of houses are all gone.”

Fran killed at least 22 people - 17 of them in North Carolina - mostly by falling trees, flooding and traffic accidents.

And unlike Bertha, which moved up the coast in July, Fran plowed deep inland, knocking down trees and power lines in the capital of Raleigh and dumping up to 14.5 inches of rain on central and western Virginia.

The Insurance Information Institute estimated losses to insured private property owners at $625 million, but the overall total was sure to be much higher. In Raleigh and surrounding Wake County alone, 4,000 homes were uninhabitable and losses will exceed $930 million, state officials said.

More than 800,000 customers were still without electricity Saturday, mostly in North Carolina and Virginia, and utilities warned that it could take up to a week for everyone to get power again.

Some 4,000 utility poles were destroyed and about 1,000 miles of downed power lines have to be replaced or repaired, Carolina Power & Light said Saturday.

With no electricity, people couldn’t pump water from wells or gasoline from service station tanks.

“People are getting a little testy,” said Neil Brennecke, who waited 20 minutes to fill his truck with gas in Raleigh.

In rural areas, people turned to backyard grills to cook the contents of their freezers before they went bad.

“How am I dealing with it? I’m suffering. Don’t have no ice, I have stuff in the freezer I’m scared to open it, and everything in the refrigerator is going on the grill,” said Shirley Smith of Kinston.

Fran inflicted the most damage in Raleigh and along North Carolina’s barrier islands just east of Wilmington, where it pounced up the Cape Fear River with 115 mph wind and pushed a storm surge of water 11 feet in places.

About 95 percent of the islands’ residents heeded evacuation orders. Others were caught in the storm, sometimes with deadly consequences.

One of those killed was a Marine driving back to Camp Lejeune with two other members of the corps. They took a wrong turn onto the bridge to Topsail Beach during the height of the storm and their car stalled in deep water.

One Marine waded away to safety while waves swept the other two off the top of the car. Lance Cpl. Robert M. Smith grabbed a tree and clung there all night. The body of Lance Cpl. Steve Sears, 19, of Shirley, Ark., washed up along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Fran’s storm surge washed across the islands, wiping out protective sand dunes and sucking the ground from under beachfront homes.

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