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December 4, 2010.

COMMUNITY LIFE from the Knotts Island Diary written by Sue Fentress Austin

1933 Hurricane

Several “old timers" of Knotts Island mentioned the Storm of 1899 as being bad, but mainly they only had real memories of the Hurricane of ’33. Adell, in her diary, does give details, scant ‘tho they are, of both an August storm and another in September. The September storm was the most damaging.

22 Aug   NLB canned lima beans. EW, Paul & I raced. Wind blew hard & we got up. Blew over umbrella tree & was I scared?

23 Aug   Men came on horseback to catch wild cow in field. We pulled up umbrella that blew down.

25 Aug   Read newspaper about the terrible storm. Mosquitoes hit last nite & this a. m. It was a terrible warm day.

Adell’s description of her "terrible warm day” in August is so typical of the hot, humid feel of the air immediately after a bad storm goes through. Her mention of their umbrella tree blowing down would have meant more than just a gentle breeze was blowing. Maybe not a real hurricane, but surely a breezy summer northeaster. Her September entries, however, tell an entirely different story.

15 Sept   A terrible storm came up tonite. We got up at 12.00 & sit up.

16 Sept   Terrible storm — we went to Uncle Johns. Ma, Pa, Ruth, EW & I. Came home, cooked cabbage. R & I helped Pa get up the turkeys. Bill & Edmond came tonite, had to wade.

17 Sept   Rode to S End & saw trees broke off. Our last nite home.

Several years before her death in 2003, Nita Brumley Dixon reminisced about that fearful time in her life:

From midnight on, the Brumley Family had been up. The decision to leave their home must have been made just after sunup because it was not dark outside. This Terrible Storm of 1933 was so fearful and the wind was blowing so hard that upstairs the doors could not be moved in any direction. Papa came downstairs and said ‘Get the young’ens ready, we are going to Uncle John’s house. Get’em ready’ he said yet again! The children were told to ‘hold on to each other’s hands’ as they hurriedly walked down the dirt lane to Uncle John’s one-story house. Once there, his house did seem safer without the second story to moan and groan against the wind. Our trunks were packed for our move to East Carolina Teacher’s College (ECTC) in Greenville, NC two days later. Pa put our trunk up on two chairs before leaving the home place. Water had covered most of the yard when we left. Uncle John was very glad to have company! Water was all the way down the lane, from the Landing, even past the Brumley house.

In Adell’s September 16th entry, Nita and four-year-old Paul are not mentioned. The author suspects Adell just inadvertently left them out in her haste to write in her diary.

Roy White and Victor Wade also discussed this same hurricane in 1999 on the local community TV station (part-time). They said water raised six feet in the bay. Cattle, hogs, dead animals - the bay was just full! All fresh fish were killed, all grasses were out of the bay for the next two to three years. On the beach side many new creeks were cut out which made for the best place for fishing! The bass liked the deep holes that the ’33 storm had created.

Another person discussing this storm was Colin Doxey. In 1998 he also mentioned the cattle that washed off the beach and over to Knotts Island. The cows looked like "barrels rolling over” as they were coming in. The Methodist Church steeple was twisted during the storm and Lath White’s house, at the foot of the present White’s Lane, was slightly twisted in the same manner. Water was said to be six foot deep, Atlantic Ocean to the Knotts Island Bay. The hurricane cut places 16 feet deep off the marsh, into the bay. Of course, over the years all these areas slowly filled in. At least 100 trees were downed in a square block of timber. Colin remembers that he cut 100 cords of wood from blown down trees in the area back of Nita Brumley Dixon's house. Probably some of this area now belongs to the refuge, or sits right alongside the refuge lands.

The author discussed with Edmund and Irma White in 2003 their memories of this fearful storm of 1933. Edmund remembers he and his brother Roy finding a baby calf in a blind box off from Freshman Island. The winds had blown him and his mother into the water. The boys rescued the calf and took him back to Freshman. Afterwards they realized it probably had not been such a good idea. Without his mother the little calf didn’t stand much chance of surviving.

The wood shingles, Roy noted of his father’s house, stayed on during storms. The wind could blow under the house and there were enough air holes from the less than perfect carpenter work to allow the winds to blow right on through the houses of that day. Edmund remembers early on during the storm that the boats in front of the house were flat against the mud — no water! Then the winds got up dangerously high, water started coming in. His father was unable to even walk in an upright position. He became concerned and gathered his family together — he literally had to crawl to the car and off they drove to Edmund's maternal grandparents’ house. The maternal grandparents would have been Ross and Alice Fentress who lived up what is now Adell & Bill Lane, the lane just south of Blackfoot Road. The house was up a rather long and winding road. The men folk sat on the large front porch facing in a northerly direction. The pine and other types of trees were being snapped off like toothpicks. In his Grandma Alice’s yard about dusk, a ball of phosphate suddenly came up from the truck belong to Curtis Fentress. Scared everyone nearly to death and Curtis was heard to cry out, “Damn!" Phosphate is a salt or ester of phosphoric acid. Ester is an organic compound formed by the reaction of an acid and an alcohol. This fiery-looking ball is called phosphorescence, a luminescence without noticeable heat. The recent storm which brought an unusually high degree of salt into the air was no doubt the culprit. Could the men have been doing some serious drinking on the front porch as they watched the trees breaking to and fro'? (Most likely!) The salt and alcohol perhaps proved to be the right combination. Edmund also mentioned that once it happened in a cemetery area (this fiery ball) and scared the be Jesus out of the two men walking alongside!

The next day it was apparent that major damage had been done to a large stand of trees situated at the beginning of the causeway. Instead of a "snap” these large trees were twisted and the wood splintered, making each tree totally useless for lumber.

Edmund and Roy went over to the beach the very next day and had no problem gathering up a bushel of speckled perch to take home for their mama to cook. Fish probably sold for 10 cents a pound in ’33. The sand dunes over at the beach were flattened and the water was still up to a man’s ankle. In the sand depressions it was much deeper and fish could be easily chased down. In the days that followed this storm, many Islanders went to the beaches and scooped up hundreds of pounds of fish to sell. One man, a Simpson, told afterwards that "in one year of bass fishing I paid for my house and it was a two-story one at that!" Edmumd’s mother, Essie, would use the low priced fish for her hunter’s meals.

Irma, not yet married when the 1933 storm came through, was living up Cason’s Point Road in the Williams/Brumley/Hughes House. She could see the ocean breaking over the marshland from an upstairs window facing in an easterly direction. The next day there was three feet of water in a house built near the water’s edge on Cason’s Point Road. Irma noted that people didn’t get as frightened or scared in those days, just used common sense. There were no weathermen giving their frightening reports every hour on the hour either.