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                    HURRICANE EMILY - AUGUST 31, 1993 - 20th Anniversary          

Satellite Image of Hurricane Emily near the Outer BanksRadar Image of Hurricane Emily near the Outer Banks


Hurricane Emily was the fifth named storm, first hurricane, and only major hurricane of the 1993 Atlantic hurricane season. The tropical wave that spawned Emily moved off the West Coast of Africa on August 17, 1993 and into the Cape Verde Islands. Five days later, a tropical depression formed about 700 miles east-northeast of Puerto Rico. The system moved northwest for 2 days before encountering weak steering currents and becoming stationary as it began to intensify. A ridge eventually built north of Emily on August 26, causing the system to move toward the west while 900 miles east of Florida. After briefly becoming a hurricane on August 26, the storm fluctuated in intensity between a hurricane and a tropical storm as it moved west-northwest. As Emily rotated around the ridge, it moved more to the north.  Intensification continued until late on August 31, when the hurricane clipped the Outer Banks as a Category 3 storm. Up to 10 feet of storm surge ran ashore on the Pamlico Sound side of Hatteras Island. The storm moved quickly away from the area and by September 2, it weakened to a tropical storm as it moved toward Bermuda and the Azores. Emily dissipated on September 6.

The National Weather Service office in Buxton, NC recorded a peak one-minute wind of 52 knots with a gust to 85 knots, but the measurement was disrupted just before the strongest winds are believed to have occurred. A private citizen in Buxton recorded 65 knots with a gust to 93 knots. These strong on-shore winds drove flood waters over the Sound side of Hatteras Island.  The maximum rainfall recorded was 7.5 inches at Buxton with very little observed further west. Two swimming deaths in rough surf occurred at Nags Head, North Carolina on September 1. A preliminary damage estimate for North Carolina is $35 million dollars, mainly on Hatteras Island. There were 553 dwellings deemed uninhabitable. About 160,000 persons were evacuated from the barrier islands of North Carolina.



Hurricane Emily moved across the Outer Banks as a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale on the evening of August 31, 1993. A portion of the western eye wall passed over Hatteras Island and the surrounding waters, with one-minute surface winds estimated between 65 and 100 knots. Analysis at the Hurricane Research Division, indicated surface winds speeds as high as 100 knots over Pamlico Sound. This caused strong on-shore winds on the Pamlico Sound side of Hatteras Island and the accompanying storm surge coastal flooding was as high as 10.2 feet above normal tide levels at Buxton, NC. The flooding was made worse by high astronomical tides. There were reports of cars “floating” in several parking lots in Buxton. In numerous homes, waist-high waves broke through windows and surged into living rooms. The flooding was one to two feet higher than predicted on one-hundred-year flood maps, resulting in the need for revised flood-mapping for Hatteras Island. The Atlantic coast maximum surge levels are estimated to be only 1 to 2 feet above normal.

There were Hurricane Watches posted from North Carolina to Delaware at 5 pm EDT August 29, or about 47 hours prior to the closest approach of the hurricane.  A Hurricane Warning was issued at 200 pm EDT August 30, or 26 hours prior to the closest approach of the cyclone.

In Eastern North Carolina, Hurricane Emily damaged 553 homes beyond repair. In addition, officials cut power to Hatteras Island, due to fears that downed power lines could start a fire. The area hardest hit by Emily in North Carolina was the city of Buxton, with storm surge, along with a rainfall amounts of 7.5 inches. There were reports of sinkholes on Highway 12 due to heavy rains produced by the storm, some of which swallowed up three four-wheel-drive vehicles. Because Emily hit during Labor Day weekend, the tourism industry suffered after Emily, losing $10,000,000 (1993 US Dollars) when 160,000 were evacuated from Eastern North Carolina. Emily's storm surge and ensuing flooding left 25% of the people of Cape Hatteras homeless, which caused Dare County to issue a federal disaster declaration. Emily's strong winds uprooted trees, downed power lines, tore the roofs off of some homes, and combined with its flooding, caused $35,000,000 (1993 US Dollars) in damage. Emily only caused 2 deaths in North Carolina, which occurred when two swimmers drowned in Nags Head. The low death toll can likely be attributed to the massive evacuations of the area.




Surge Flooding near Buxton, NC associated with Hurricane Emily, August 31, 1993.



 Surge Flooding During Hurricane Emily.

Courtesy: Irene Nolan, Island Free Press


Courtesy: Irene Nolan, Island Free Press


Courtesy: Irene Nolan, Island Free Press



Courtesy Irene Nolan, Island Free Press  


Courtesy Irene Nolan, Island Free Press


Additional Articles Related to Emily

Courtesy Irene Nolan, Island Free Press 

(Editor’s Note:  The following article is based on a column that first appeared in October, 1993, in The Island Breeze.)


Remembering Hurricane Emily:

It was the ‘hurricane of the century’




When all was said and done and the facts and figures analyzed, Wally DeMaurice, who was director of the National Weather Service Office in Buxton at the time, declared Emily the "hurricane of the century" — at least for the lower part of Hatteras Island.

DeMaurice said in an interview after the storm that the eye of the storm came within 13 miles of Cape Hatteras in the early evening of Tuesday, Aug. 31, 1993.  The lower villages from Avon to Hatteras were in the storm’s west eyewall for about 1-1/2 hours.  During that time, the villages were battered with sustained winds of hurricane force, or 74 miles per hour.

The wind instruments at the National Weather Service in Buxton stopped functioning about 6 p.m. when flood waters from the Pamlico Sound got telephone lines wet.  The highest gust measured at the office before that time was 98 miles per hour.

A wind gauge at Fox Watersports in Buxton, which DeMaurice said was "very reliable," measured a gust of 107 at 6:12 p.m.  The winds at the Diamond Shoals tower, which was very close to the eye, were clocked at 142.

DeMaurice said he has had reports from residents with wind instruments at their homes of winds up to 138 miles per hour.  He couldn’t say that the wind didn’t blow that hard, but he did note that wind instruments at the peak of a steep roof can accentuate wind speed.

"However," DeMaurice said, "we did not have 138 mile-per-hour damage.  We had 100 mile-per-hour damage."

He noted that even though the island was in the eyewall, it was not on the most dangerous side of the storm, generally the northeast quadrant.

"We did not have a landfalling hurricane," he said.  "We had a glancing blow."

DeMaurice said he was "sweating buckshot" until Emily’s gaping eye, headed straight for Cape Hatteras, made a turn to the north, just miles off the coast.  If the hurricane had passed over the island and turned north up the sound, he emphasized, the devastation would have been unbelievably worse.

The devastation on the lower part of the island, he noted, was because of the duration of the storm.  While Gloria in 1985 moved over Hatteras at 28 miles per hour, Emily poked along at eight to 13 miles per hour.  The persistent northwest winds drove a storm surge from the Pamlico Sound over the island up to 10-1/2 feet in places.

These, DeMaurice said, were the greatest water levels in living memory — more than the hurricanes of ‘33 and ‘44, and probably more than the 1899 storm.  The worse since a hurricane in 1846 opened Oregon and Hatteras inlets.

The storm surge brought up to five feet of water into the homes of island residents from Avon through Buxton and on to Frisco and Hatteras villages.

There were no deaths and only one reported injury during the storm, but Emily brought devastating personal tragedy to the islanders.

County officials estimated the damage at $12.6 million, a figure which in itself is misleading.  It may not seem like that much, but it’s more impressive when you consider that most of it is limited to a 17-mile stretch of the island.

Early damage estimates indicated that 683 primary homes of residents were affected by the storm.  That included 168 homes destroyed, 216 uninhabitable because of major damage, and 144 uninhabitable because of minor damage.  It was estimated that 25 percent of the year-round, single-family homes were destroyed or uninhabitable.

The suffering was compounded by the fact that many of the businesses in the affected area were badly damaged and closed, putting many folks out of work, at least temporarily.  And the lack of affordable year-round housing was a major problem for displaced families.

In the days after the storm, Highway 12 and the side roads were lined with the remains of what had been homes, as residents laid out their devastation for all to see and for highway crews to load into trucks and cart away.  The piles seemed to get higher, as the days went by, and bedding and furniture were added to ruined carpets.  Then came stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers, televisions and then ruined clothing and toys.    

Emily’s "glancing blow" seemed anything but glancing as dazed islanders began the process of cleaning up, picking up, and putting their lives back together.  Help poured in from the county, from the state, from the federal government, and from private groups and individuals. 

The response was impressive, and in just two weeks, Hatteras Island looked almost normal to tourists who had been allowed to return to the island.  Businesses began to open, and slowly the pace of life began returning to what it was before Aug. 31.

One returning tourist, in a story in The Virginian-Pilot, called the damage "anticlimactic" after all the media coverage and said that "compared to the Florida thing (Hurricane Andrew in 1992), it’s not all that bad."

Of course, the lower end of Hatteras Island does not have the number of people that the lower end of Florida has, and homes were not just blown apart by the wind, leaving piles of timbers for tourists to see.  However, the combination of wind and surging Pamlico Sound waters inflicted emotional and financial wounds that were months and years healing.

Emily struck a crushing blow to this island, which had been enjoying a financial recovery of sorts after several bleak years of a bad economy, devastating nor’easters, and a freak accident that took the island’s only bridge out of commission for months.   

It is true that these fragile barrier islands are used to whims of the winds, and hearty, spirited islanders have weathered storms here for centuries.  But few were prepared for what Emily wrought.

Nevertheless, most Hatteras islanders picked up and went on, as they did many times before, thanks to the indomitable human spirit.  Either perversely or thankfully, terrific devastation brings out the best in mankind.

Islanders who themselves had suffered great losses rushed to help those who were in greater need.  Neighbors to the north and south who were spared the wrath of the storm, rushed in to help.  The community pulled together, and concerned people all over the state and the country sent comfort by the truckload.

Through it all, it was interesting to note that both the terrible tragedy and the terrific response brought tears to our eyes.


Islanders remember Emily’s devastation




Connie Farrow was living on Lester Farrow Road in Frisco during the summer of Hurricane Emily.  She and her toddler daughter, Tiffany, decided to stay with her brother for the duration of the storm in his two-story house.  As they were preparing to leave, a neighbor stopped by and commented, "Shouldn't you get some of these things up higher?"

"I have lived in this area for most of 30 years," Connie said.  "We have never had tide in the houses."  She later returned home to 18 inches of standing water and numerous ruined photographs, clothes, toys, and other possessions.

While they were staying with her brother, water began flooding the downstairs of the house, forcing them to climb to the second floor.  Tiffany kept running to the doorway to watch the water creep up the stairs.  With a child's innocence, she joyfully announced, "I'm going swimming!"

Karla Jarvis of Hatteras Village says she and her family have many memories of Emily, but this one has a lighter note:

"Since our daughter was so young, we decided at the last minute to evacuate for Hurricane Emily.  I remember that when we got home afterwards, we parked the car and stood in the yard, surveying the damage.  It was so quiet.  It was eerie.  Normally there would have been cicadas buzzing and crickets chirping and a multitude of birds warbling, but they were all gone.  I remember the silence being so strikingly palpable, we just stood there in utter amazement, almost afraid to speak.

"Then we heard it — the unmistakable sounds of our three little hens, clucking away.  On the morning we had hurriedly left, my husband had put them in a peeler pot and sat the pot on top of a pile of webbing — the highest spot we could find.  We ran to the backyard, and sure enough, there they were, poking their little heads in and out of the sides of the pot!

"We're not sure how they made it through the storm.  We had about 18 inches of water inside the house so we figured the water outside had to have been over the top of the pot.  We joked that they must have taken turns holding their breath and standing on each others' heads.  We'll never know their story, but they sure were three happy little hens that day when we took them out of the pot and let them run free.

"I guess this one sticks out in my mind the most because I am such an auditory person.  I can still remember that eerie silence after all these years later.  Strange, huh?"

Edie Coulter and her husband, "Creature," were under their house in Frisco, attempting to secure a few things when they saw the tide beginning to rise at the corner of their yard.  They decided to disconnect their propane tanks, but within minutes the water was up to their waists and climbing higher.  As they struggled with the tanks, Edie says they were pelted with pine cones shaken from the trees in the wind and rain.

They had previously parked their John Deere lawn tractor on top of their septic tank since that spot was the highest point in their yard.  "We stood at the upstairs window and watched the water rise right up over that old John Deere," Edie remembers.  "There was just water everywhere.  So much water.  Water as far as the eye could see."

John Alwine of Buxton has many Emily memories and shares this one:

"One of the most memorable things about Hurricane Emily and its aftermath is how I met Dan Rather.

"The morning after Emily hit, the first item on my agenda was to get outside and see how much damage had been done to the house and surrounding area.  My home backs up to Buxton Woods.  The area is low and usually wet even during a dry summer.  The water had risen from the wooded area up to within a few feet of my shop.  This was kind of okay because it provided me with a source of water to use to flush the toilets in the house, since there was no water available otherwise.

"Walking around to the front of the house, I saw a large TV satellite truck parked just to the south.  Being nosy, my neighbor, Ann Jennette, and I went that way to see what was going on.  Low and behold, Dan Rather stepped out of the van, introduced himself, and began asking questions about damage to our property, etc.  He walked with Ann and me back to our homes to see the damage firsthand."

John also remembers that during the height of the storm, he was sitting in the dark in his kitchen, listening to weather bulletins on the battery-operated radio, trying to stay "cool, calm, and collected".  Out of nowhere, there came a knock on the door.  He says, "The wind a-blowin' like crazy, rain falling heavy enough to blind a person, and someone knocks on my door!  I yelled for them to come in, and in popped N.F. and Doris Jennette, my neighbors, soaked to the skin.  They were at home when the water started coming in the floor vents.  It rose so fast that by the time they could get out, it was up to their waists.  The water damage to their home was extensive."

John says that a day or two after Emily passed, a neighbor called to ask him to check on the neighbor's waterfront house at the end of Cottage Avenue.  "I pulled in under the house as usual, got out, and stepped on a can of beer.  I looked around and there was beer everywhere.  Every brand you could think of.  I walked around the house and found beer in the bushes, laying in the yard, and pooled into piles in low places in the driveway.  I checked the house, documented damage, and commenced to pick up beer.  Just on my friend's lot, I picked up 175 cans of beer.  (Mind you, I only picked up premium brands.)  I walked around the neighborhood and found more beer and cans of soft drinks.

"The beer and other items were from a brew-thru type of establishment owned by Corky Whitehead that had been hit full force by the hurricane and completely emptied of its contents.

"At my age, I have a hard time remembering everything about Emily.  One thing I do remember well is that I didn't like it one bit."

Linda Browning's memories of Emily come in sound bites and mental photographs:

CRACK!  A gunshot.  No.  A tree breaking in half.  CRACK!  Another. And another.  And another.  Pieces of straw in an invisible fist.

Wind.  So loud that conversation cannot be heard above the roar.  Wood and rafters screaming, not wanting to let go.

Tide.  Rising to the base of the pilings of the house.  Get higher.  Climbing up the tires of the car.  Now up the engine compartment.

Rain.  Filling up the air space between our double-hung windows.  How am I going to get the water out?

Fear.  When would the storm pass?  What would be left?  Who would be hurt?

Later…Green.  Pine needles cover everything in sight.

Smell.  Rancid sewage odors from flooded septic tanks fill my nostrils along with the sweet, clean fragrance of evergreens — like Christmas.  (The storm left more than 300 60-foot pines lying on the ground around our house.)

Sadness.  I see sky where before I saw only intertwining limbs.  The woods are decimated.  Song birds fly in confusion.  I think:  They need a new map.  Squirrels won't know their way to our bird feeder now.

Heartbreak.  My community's ruined belongings are piled high on the roadside waiting for the trash trucks to haul them away.

Cleaning.  I stand in my shop and pour seawater out of the pottery onto the already-wet floor.  The tide line is at 14 inches in a place where it never floods.  My husband comes in and hands me the video, "Great Weather Disasters," which he had ordered from the Weather Channel weeks earlier.

Laughing.  Finally.

Alan Yeingst watched part of the storm from James Rollinson's porch in Buxton, behind Conner’s Supermarket.  They watched in amazement as pine trees bent over at 45 degree angles, as the tide rose to the edge of the porch, and they considered moving the furniture.  Alan waded in chest-deep water to the market's parking lot to move his truck — water was already over the floor boards.  Snakes were everywhere.  He remembers a funny moment when James strolled out on to his porch and yelled, "Ah, Buck!  It’s just a shirt-tail breeze!"

Ernie and Lynne Foster of Hatteras village stayed at Ernal and Hazel Foster's house on Highway 12 during the storm.  Lynne says, "During the storm, we heard a knock on the back door.  There were two 'Coasties' who had waded through the water, in the dark, to see if we were all right or needed any help!  I realize now that it was probably a tribute to Captain Ernal and not standard practice."

During Hurricane Emily, Robin Jennette stayed with friends on Buxton's Back Road.  She says the storm rolled over Buxton during the daytime.  Everyone could see what was happening. 

"I knew we were in trouble when we saw the water running down the Back Road just like a river.  Sometime after midnight Emily appeared to have gone by, so we decided to take a drive to check out the damage.  My friends dropped me off at the beginning of Rocky Rollinson Road.  I waded in chest deep water, in the dark, hoping I wouldn't walk into any snakes, to my trailer.  The carpet was squishy, but the top of the bed was dry.  I was so tired, I just peeled off my wet clothes and got right in.  Hurricane Emily was terrible."


For Additional Information on Hurricane Emily, visit the Island Free Press website. 


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