Topsail Island Hurricanes
When it comes to hurriceans, the Topsail Island region has seen its share of wind and water. More than $6 billion in damage was caused by the double-header in 1996: Bertha in July and Fran in September. More recently it was Floyd in 1999 and Bonnie in 1998 and, way back when, Hazel in 1959. As many residents know, sometimes the frenzy surrounding fearsome Topsail Island hurricanes can be about as bad or worse than the weather itself.
Rose Peters runs the Missiles & More Museum in Topsail Beach, and she moved to North Topsail Beach with her husband in January 2002. Hurricane Isabel came to visit them in their new residence in September that same year. “We were sitting there and heard on the radio that the high-rise bridge going to the mainland was going to close at seven o’clock because of the high winds,” she said. This sparked a bit of a marital dispute, because she wanted to cross that bridge before it closed and he didn’t want to go.
“He said, ‘I can’t leave. Everything we own is in this house.’ And I said, ‘I can’t stay.’ We weren’t mad at each other. It was just, ‘okay I’m leaving.'” She knew she was headed for a shelter that had been set up by the American Red Cross, but she had no idea what to expect. “So, I took a sleeping bag and a bunch of snacks and water. It is probably six miles to the shelter, which was a middle school, and they take all your information and who to contact.” Considering all the fear and dread that has to be mixed up with such an experience, she said it was really not bad. And it was extremely memorable.
“I have a new respect for the Red Cross that I didn’t have before,” she said. “They had two nurses who took two 12-hour shifts. They had a mental health person. We had three hot meals a day because it was a school and it had a cafeteria. As it turned out, she didn’t eat her snacks or drink her water, and would have done all right without the sleeping bag. “We were on army cots. We had to share rooms, probably about eight people to a classroom.” When the storm was finished doing its worst, which really wasn’t all that bad, it left a deeper mark on the shelter refugees than it did on the island’s topography. “What the Red Cross did was remarkable. It was truly above and beyond.”