Hurricane Hazel in the Carolinas – (Images of America)
by Jay Barnes
Hurricane Hazel swept the U.S. Eastern Seaboard in mid-October 1954, eventually landing in the record books as one of the most deadly and enduring hurricanes.
After punishing Haiti with mudslides that killed hundreds, Hazel edged northward, striking the Carolina coast as a ferocious category four.
Landfall occurred near the South Carolina-North Carolina border, where a massive surge washed over barrier beaches and swept away hundreds of homes. Coastal communities like Myrtle Beach, Long Beach, Carolina Beach, and Wrightsville Beach caught the brunt of the storm tide and suffered heavy damages.
Hazel barreled inland and battered eastern North Carolina with 100-plus mile-per-hour gusts that toppled trees and power lines and peeled away rooftops.
It then raced northward setting new wind records across seven states. In Ontario, it spawned flash floods that became the most deadly in Canadian history. When it was all over, Hazel had killed more than 1,000 and left a trail of destruction across the hemisphere. But nowhere was its impact more dramatic than in the Carolinas.
Series: Images of America
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing (May 24, 2010)
No force on Earth can stop the wind, but we do know how to get out of its way thanks to advances like satellites that show the spinning hurricanes heading our way.
Jay Barnes probably knows as much about East Coast hurricane history as anyone. In 1995 he published “North Carolina’s Hurricane History” while he was still director of the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Know Shores on Bogue Banks. The book is now in its third edition.
Barnes’ book won the North Carolina Historians’ Award. But Barnes said he had to put out a revised edition because, in 1996, Carolina got whacked with Bertha and Fran, and then another revised edition when along came Hurricane Dennis and then Floyd in 1999.
Until Barnes’ hurricane book came out, there was no single reference book that created the record of the more than 50 storms to hit North Carolina in recorded history. Barnes said he scoured through numerous newspaper reports, records of the National Weather Service, photographs and eyewitness accounts.
Hurricane Hazel in 1954 was probably “the most powerful storm to hit North Carolina” and went all the way up to Canada, Barnes said.
Now, having assembled a collection of Hazel photographs, Barnes has a new book that just came out, published by Arcadia Publishing, that “traces the history of Hazel in the Carolinas” with pictures of the havoc it caused at Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, Wilson, Goldsboro and into Canada.
Barnes, 51, grew up in Southport below Wilmington. So, he noted, he has always been around water and storms. He went to the College of Design at N.C. State University, and he got “very interested in museums.” When he got out of college, he applied for the job of curator of design at the N.C. Aquarium and began work there in 1980 and as director in 1989.
After 20 years, Barnes left to head up fundraising for the N.C. Aquarium Society. Alan Monroe became the new director, but his wife, Robin, still works at the aquarium. They have two daughters, ages 26 and 17.
Asked what drove him into his pursuits, Barnes said, “I always tell people this: I’m not a meteorologist or a marine biologist.” But he loves the work.
Although fascinated with the history of hurricanes, Barnes was quick to say, “I can’t say I love them, though, because when they come, there are a lot of new tragedies come with them.”
Barnes said Hurricane Hazel in 1954 is still remembered as a destroyer; Hugo in 1989 swung inshore below Craven and Carteret counties, and did a lot of damage in Charlotte. Another “legacy of destruction” was left by Fran in the fall of 1996, but Hurricane Floyd, which hit on Sept. 16, 1999, replaced Fran as the “state’s foremost weather event,” gaining the dubious title as “the greatest disaster in North Carolina history.”
About the Author
For more than 20 years, Tar Heel native Jay Barnes has studied and written about America’s hurricane history. In Hurricane Hazel in the Carolinas, he shares dozens of striking photographs from his collection along with his insights into the nature of this benchmark hurricane.