Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hatteras Island Hurricane, Roberta Estes

1936 Hatteras Island Hurricane

In the next few days, I'll be writing a book review for an absolutely lovely book titled Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly by Sybil Skakle who was raised on Hatteras Island. She brings the island of her childhood in the 1930s to life for us.  However, today, with the impending hurricane, Earl, about to descend on Hatteras Island, I want to share with you Sybil's description of the 1936 hurricane on Hatteras.  For those who have never experienced such, well, you're fortunate.  Those who lived there on that remote island with no roads or bridges were in essence trapped.  You fared better to open your doors and let the angry sea roar through your home on the ribbon of land in the Atlantic called Hatteras.....but let's let Sybil tell the story in this excerpt from her book...

The one in 1933 - before hurricanes had names- frightened me most. It had no parallel in my memory. In more recent years there have been more devastating ones to Hatteras Island.  However, It is that one I remember best.
Wind was gusting up to 100 mph, taking railing and chimney off the Weather Bureau, which we could see from the Pamlico side of our house, across Aunt Martha Oden's yard.  It had blown out the window in the upstairs hall, at the top of our stairs and water rose to the third stair step in our house before it began to recede.
Frightened by the advancing tide, recalling the story of Noah's Ark (but not the promise of the rainbow) I buried my face in the ruff of our small, white dog Dobby's neck and cried and prayed that God would save us. When I came down stairs, the tide had lowered on the steps. My prayer had been answered.
Able-bodied men had volunteered or been recruited to raise the piano and our kerosene-run refrigerator with wooden bottle crates from Daddy's store. They had been raised to the ceiling, bottle crate by bottle crate.  Other furniture that could be transported up those inside stairs had been moved to the upper floor. But up there, every pot and pan or chamber pot that could be found was situated beneath a leak from the cedar-shingled roof, which did not leak with ordinary showers. Wind whistled under the eves and around the windows, which rattled in their casings. The house swayed in the wind.
We had seen the hurricane light signals the night before. Now the two square red flags with black square centers flapped furiously in the wind.
Following is an account by my mother, Inez Daniels Austin from Hatteras, dated September 17, 1936:
All day the storm has threatened. Radio reports warn us to move out of the storm area. Lots they know how slim our chances of making a single move to save our lives. The only thing we can do is open our homes to the strangers within our storm-closed gates.
The people who live nearer the shore may move in nearer the center of the beach land to homes that are no safer perhaps than those right along the sound or ocean front. One little pitiful mile is the width at the widest point that separates us at this very moment from a very uncertain end.
There is one thing more we can do. We can keep on praying that a Heavenly Father will help us to be sane and sensible at this time and help us to be brave.  He calmed the storm on the wind-tossed Galilee. He can do the same today.
Or are we so sinful that we must be shown the power through the elements of a Father's mighty hand?
We hope with every passing moment that the intensity of the storm may lower. We have been given by last report a slim hope that the storm may veer out to sea. Perhaps the land will not get it quite so intensely as we now fear.
May the hand that rules us all wave a gentle wand over the troubled waters and still their tempestuous tossing.
How relieved each heart - how grateful- should the wind quietly lower and no damage come to us and our poor earthly possessions.
The last reports says 11:30 is the time set for the most dangerous hour of the storm at this point. We wait with bated breath, hoping against hope that we may not get it so terribly bad here. The tide is over the land, still rising higher and higher.
The Coast Guardsman reports by phone that he is being rocked to sleep in the tower as he watches. They have seen so many storms, so they seem unafraid.  (The phone was in Austin's Store.)
At 12:30 the water is now 14 inches deep in the down stairs rooms.
We have the piano 24 inches off the floor, also a davenport on two chairs (wooden).  (Sewing) machine is on the desk; refrigerator on boxes, Victrola and upholstered chairs on the tables.
The wind is still very strong and flurries seem to indicate that it is increasing in velocity.
Mr. Poe (Rev. John Poe) has gone to bed, also, Shanklin. Decatur (cousin) and Josephine look like ostriches on their nest, lying on couch about halfway up to the side of the wall. Mr. (Marion) Holland (Hatteras school teacher) in another corner on davenport, on a high perch.  Andrew sits on a high chair on first stair step, feet propped on second step.  I am sitting on a stool, water sloshing up under same.
We had eaten breakfast with our feet in the tide beneath the dining table; had watched the wind drive the tide across the top of the cistern beyond the windows. The demands of the storm had kept us all busy through the day. Later, when the tides had receded, Jo, an older sister, had been among the brave and curious who went to observe the damage and take pictures.
The Northern Methodist Church building and many homes had been washed off their foundations, helped by the wind. Our father's freight boat Cathleen had been driven aground and left high and dry near scaffolds where nets were hung to dry. Trees had been uprooted and blown down. Fences were blown over or floated away. Vegetation was destroyed. Caskets and the Hatteras School cistern, which must have been empty, floated out of the ground.
To reduce the likelihood of our house floating, we opened the doors for the tide. As the tide began to recede, every available broom had someone sweeping the silt out with the tide. Water contamination was one of the worst threats to our health. Water in the cisterns, no longer fit to drink, could only be used to clean the remaining mud and grime from the floors. Everything, wet from the tide or the rain, needed time to dry. It took weeks to be rid of the smell of mud and mold.

And so it was in 1936 and has been before and since on Hatteras Island.  Today we pray for our island friends as Earl approaches and know that they are better prepared than the colonists or Indians were in the past to survive a major assault from Mother Nature.

You can purchase Sybil's book, Confessions of an Outer Banks Filly at Manteo Booksellers in Manteo, NC or at

This blog is © History Chasers
Click here to view all recent Lost Colony Research Group Blog posts

Bookmark and Share