Ocracoke's history & its people

Living amidst hurricanes: A look at historic storms

The mailboat Aleta and another boat are left high and dry near the Island Inn after the storm of 1944.

The mail boat Aleta and another boat are left high and dry near the Island Inn after the storm of 1944.

Hurricane Matthew, which passed by Ocracoke as a tropical storm in the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 9, will supplant the “great Atlantic hurricane of 1944” as the storm that brought the highest floodwaters to Ocracoke.

It also surpasses the benchmark storm surge mark of about 4 feet by Hurricane Alex in 2004, which caught many islanders by surprise resulting in 200 to 300 cars having been flooded.

This time, while many vehicles (cars, trucks and golf carts) were flooded, many more homes and businesses were hit with a wave of water that exceeded Alex’s tide by several inches.

Hyde County kicked into action and hired Smith’s Demo of Plymouth to remove the debris, the cost of which the county has applied to FEMA for reimbursement.

Back in 1944, there were a few news reports on how Ocracoke fared.

The following is an excerpt from the Statesville Daily Record, posted Saturday, Sept 16, 1944:

Reports from Ocracoke, just off the coast, indicated that property damage there amounted to approximately $500,000.

Fifteen evacuees who arrive by boat in New Bern last night said many families had lost all their possessions during the storm which lasted from 2 a.m. until noon.

The famous Pamlico Inn was said to be damaged almost beyond repair.  High tides destroyed several houses, and damaged the docks.

 The water tank broke and the residents were without fresh water.

Mrs. William Robert Smith, formerly of New Bern and Fayetteville said her family had lost everything except the clothes they were wearing.

The following is an Associated Press story Saturday, Sept 16, 1944, in The Daily Times-News (Burlington):

 (AP) – Damage estimated at $200,000 was done to this outer banks village when the great Atlantic hurricane thundered through here Thursday morning.

First reports from the isolated community came from Aycock Brown, who said the village was virtually wrecked by a 75-mile wind and high tides.

“I have not seen a house that was not damaged,” Brown said.

He said ten houses were destroyed, 40 fishing boats washed ashore and most of the chickens, cats and dogs were drowned.  Almost destroyed was the Pamlico Inn.

The following is from Philip Howard’s Sept.16, 2008, blog on the anniversary of the storm of Sept. 16, 1933.

Today is the anniversary of the storm of 1933 that pummeled Ocracoke Island with winds of over 120 mph. On Sept. 14, 1944 another major hurricane hit Ocracoke with winds of 100 mph or more. I remember hearing of a woman who opened her front door during the storm to see a “wall of water” advancing toward her house.

Remarkably, to my knowledge no resident of Ocracoke has ever died from the result of a hurricane, although significant property damage has been done from time to time. On Sept. 18, 2003, hurricane Isabel came ashore on the Outer Banks. Although little damage was done on Ocracoke, Hatteras Island sustained much destruction, including the creation of a new inlet north of Hatteras Village.

Philip’s blog, Ocracoke Island Journal, can be found at villagecraftsmen.blogspot.com.

This account of the 1944 storm was published in the 1973 Ocracoke High School Yearbook.

This account of the 1944 storm was published in the 1973 Ocracoke High School Yearbook.

As were many other village streets, Irvin Garrish Highway was a river after Hurricane Matthew passed Ocracoke Oct. 9. Photo by Byron Miller

As were many other village streets, Irvin Garrish Highway was a river after Hurricane Matthew passed Ocracoke Oct. 9. Photo by Byron Miller