north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
      On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel made landfall in southern Brunswick County and became the benchmark hurricane for an entire generation. Its devastation began long before it reached Tar Heel shores as, just days before, it struck Haiti where it left hundreds dead. Its landfall in North Carolina occurred on a full moon high tide, exacerbating the storm surge impact on the barrier beaches of Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle, Holden Beach, Long Beach, Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach, and Topsail Island. The devastation was widespread across North Carolina but nowhere was the impact more severe than on Long Beach (present-day Oak Island), where a 17-foot storm surge swept away 352 of the 357 structures on the island. The dramatic surge was unprecedented, and to this day represents the greatest coastal inundation in North Carolina’s recorded history.

      Hazel was the only hurricane of the twentieth century to strike North Carolina as a category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Its winds topped 140 miles per hour, which added to its fury. After landfall it tracked inland, and battering winds cut a wide swath northward toward Raleigh. High winds toppled trees, ripped roofs, and tore down signs and power lines across the state. Although the storm weakened somewhat on its march toward Virginia, its forward speed accelerated, and gusts above 100 mph continued along its route through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. Hazel merged with a low pressure system in upstate New York and brought flooding to Ontario where scores drowned in flash floods.

      Hazel was responsible for ninety-five deaths in the U.S., including nineteen in North Carolina. Its total damage impact in the Tar Heel State was $136 million, a considerable amount for 1954. Hazel remains the standard by which other North Carolina hurricanes are measured.


References:
Jay Barnes, North Carolina’s Hurricane History (2001)
National Hurricane Center website: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Scotti Cohn, Disasters and Heroic Rescues of North Carolina (2005)Betty Kennedy, Hurricane Hazel (1979)


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north carolina highway historical marker program


A view of Southport after Hurricane Hazel passed through. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives.

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources