Aunt Sylvia’s letter, dated March thirteenth, began:
Dear Cam (my mother's nickname) and children,
“This letter will be quite lengthy as I want to give you an idea of just what has happened down here. We knew on Tuesday, the sixth that the storm would be a big one. I believe I told you that when we talked that night. The wind swung from the west to the northeast by late morning and picked up to over forty miles per hour, not in gusts but steady. The ocean quickly went from a light chop to large rollers, breaking on the outer sand bar at heights of ten to fifteen feet and building. By the time of the first high tide after the change, around four in the afternoon, we began to get an idea of the gravity of the situation as water started to break through the beach dune line. By dusk, the beach road was under water on most of the beach and many people opted to leave for Roanoke Island or other points away from the ocean. Since we are Outer Bankers, however, most of us decided to weather the storm in place.
“During the night, the winds increased and there were occasional gusts up to hurricane force. There is something quite frightening about an ocean storm when you can’t really see it, but we knew the water was in the garage and under the open space below holding the foundation stilts. Hal secured everything earlier in the day so we hunkered down, blinds and shades drawn in the event of window breakage with lanterns ready. That was a good move since the power went off at around ten that night. Even with the windows closed and window treatments drawn shut we could not only hear the moaning of the wind but the roar of the sea, several hundred yards to our east. It was then that we heard a big engine and we knew it was Jethro from the fish market, making his way up the highway through the water in his military surplus Navy duck. We heard him come up to the back door, protected from the wind and immediately opened it when he knocked.
“Jethro asked Hal to assist him in making rounds to evacuate some of the folks in danger. He wanted my approval as well and, of course, I said that was okay. I’d certainly want someone to do the same for me, so they left and I just sat there and prayed for their safety. When Hal returned, we went to bed; he said that the water at the ground level didn’t come higher at the last high tide and thought it was following a new flow pattern inland caused by the highway construction.
“Ash Wednesday, the second day, we awoke and could no longer see out the windows when we pulled the drapes open for a peak outside. The brine being blown in by that time by constant hurricane force winds left a heavy film that only allowed us to know it was light. Hal went out the back door, protected from the wind by the house and down the stairs to check out ground level. He was gone longer than I expected but when he came back he had a thermos full of good, hot coffee. He used an old camping stove with canned sterno to brew a pot with a percolator on the back porch above ground level. It was the perfect location to do so out of the wind. He stayed in his waders all day, ready to go out on a moment’s notice.
“Wednesday was the worst day with waves pushing thirty feet at times, repeatedly eroding and moving inland through the dune breaks which were continually expanding. The wind was near or at hurricane force all day long and everything was groaning and straining. Despite that, many of the locals including Hal and Jethro made one more run for people in trouble. This went on by many brave volunteers up and down the coast, from Kitty Hawk to Hatteras Village as most of us had never seen anything like this before. That night was the most vicious and sitting in the dark made it even more ominous. I was very proud to see in the end that Hal’s handiwork on our home and your cottage was sound with both standing strong, ours with just some external damage from flying debris, and weathering an ultimate test. Many others weren’t so fortunate.
“Thursday’s tides were high as was the wind but it was down considerably from Wednesday. I don’t know if we could have made it through a third storm day like the first two and we were anxious for the water to recede and the winds to drop to a safe level for going out. We wanted to see what happened and help those in need in any way we could.
“While the wind was still gale force on Friday morning, the direction was changing to offshore and we were finally able to venture outdoors. Hal took me in his trusty jeep to the Baptist Church. Seeing that little church in the sunshine made me smile and people were gathering for a belated Ash Wednesday prayer service and to decide what we could do to help those not so fortunate. There were still many locked in by water down toward the sound.
“The drive getting there was very interesting as there was still more than a foot of water on the beach road. It was trapped with nowhere to go, much of it from the heavy accompanying rain. Even most cars could handle that water, but we passed a large number of cars which had been sidelined by the storm. They were facing in all directions meaning the storm water pummeled them, likely making them no longer of value due to salt water. In many places, soft, wet sand was present where roadway had been before and that was a problem for vehicles other than a four-wheel drive machine, like our old jeep.
“I hope you find the pictures a good indication of what we’ve been through. I am aware that even up there the weather was rough and I pray for all who were unfortunate. But you have been blessed, Cam, as have I. God definitely spared us from what could have been. We’ll have to talk on the phone when the lines are not so overloaded; they are recommending for now to limit calls to major need for the time being since many are still out.
At the conclusion of what the record books call a storm of the century on the Atlantic seaboard, Nags Head and the Banks were slow to recover. Mounds of debris were everywhere, but gradually things came back together in a way that is characteristic of Outer Bankers. When we were finally able to visit and see first hand the aftermath, it was truly amazing and not in a good way what was found. Large swaths of oceanfront property that had cottages were gone, the beach was rearranged, but finally reaching our place, all was intact as it had been before the storm. When Dad had visited the beach to find the right property for a cottage in 1946 , Uncle Hal suggested the lot that he bought and it was Hal who built that sturdy cottage. It weathered the storm with total success and even was used to take in some without shelter during the storm. And that cottage, while no longer owned by our family, still survives to this day. Much of what is around it is, of course, now unrecognizable and the ocean is no longer visible from the oceanfront enclosed porch due to the huge man-made build up of sand, but it does still exist. It also looks so small against the towering beach mansions which are often mere investments instead of simple family cottages, but like everything else life and priorities change. To each his own, I guess, but regardless, the storm offers evidence of what always happens at least once a century on that unique shore which is just a chain of sand against the open sea. I hope that those now and in the future will realize the true power that can always be brought to bear by nature when God lets it happen, for man has no chance to successfully battle his wrath when it reaches a crescendo for reasons that sometimes only He understands. I hope this story might open eyes for those who will be on this earth long after I am gone. It is for that reason that it is written. God bless you all and if you want more information about what it was like back in those days, check out this link: