By Elaine Henson
Most residents on our island consider 1954’s Hurricane Hazel as the worst hurricane ever to hit our area. It was the only Category Four hurricane in southeastern North Carolina in all of the 20th Century or since. And, it came in on a lunar high tide. It is often the benchmark to which all other hurricanes are compared.
Hazel’s reputation often overshadows the 1955 hurricane season which had three hurricanes impacting coastal North Carolina with two of the hurricanes hitting within 5 days of each other.
Hurricane Connie hit on August 12, 1955 as a Category Two with typical strong winds, high tides and heavy rainfall. It caused heavy crop damage and 27 deaths in North Carolina.
Five days later, on August 17, Hurricane Diane made landfall in North Carolina as a Tropical storm with winds of 50 mph and gusts of 74 mph in Wilmington. The waves were 12 feet, tides were 6-8 feet above normal and the storm surge caused damage to homes along the beach and coastal flooding on top of the rain-soaked area from Connie. This August 17, 1955 press photo of Hurricane Diane shows the 1600 block of Carolina Beach Avenue North featuring two flat top houses on the ocean front. Their porches are gone and waves are splashing at the front door.
Lane Holt, whose parents Dan and Margaret Holt operated the Carolina Beach Pier on the north end, confirmed that these two houses were just a few yards south of the pier.
He remembers Connie and Diane well and reports that the post Hazel rebuilt pier held up through the two storms, but the tackle shop was destroyed again. Then on September 19, 1955 Hurricane Ione made landfall near Wilmington as a Category Two storm leaving more flooding, strong winds, storm surge, more crop damage and 7 dead in North Carolina.
Not only did Pleasure Island have to rebuild after Hazel in 1954, a year later it suffered three hurricanes in just 37 days and faced more rebuilding and repairs. It makes one understand just how strong and resilient our residents are.