One day I checked my email and opened a snapshot my college roommate Tracy sent from Austin, Texas. I am standing with his wife Dianne in front of my garage apartment in Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I had been living on the Banks for a few years and working on Roanoke Island as the head of exhibits at the North Carolina Aquarium. My place was connected to a house that sat back a couple from the beach road. It was taken around January, 1978.
On July 31 of that year it all changed. A friend, Walter Gresham from the camera shop in Nags Head tells it best...
"It was a hot lazy summer day on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Then, without warning, the tranquility of the day was violently shattered. A huge waterspout developed just off the shore of Kill Devil Hills. Over a period of about 10 minutes it wobbled slowly northwest toward shore and hundreds of terrified fleeing beach goers. As it made landfall the funnel turned from a light blue color to black. It proceeded to cross the dune line and in its path was the Wilbur Wright Motel, which was destroyed. Then crossed the beach road just north of the Stop 'N Shop on Collington Road. At this point continued generally west down Collington Road destroying a number of homes in its path. Unfortunately there was one person killed in that area, but could have been many more. As the tornado was nearing the By-Pass it finally dissipated and went back up into the clouds."
|© 2004 Walter Gresham III|
I got a call at the aquarium that I needed to get home as soon as possible. It took about thirty minutes and when I turned on my road the devastation was intense. My street, that was a part of Colington Road, was soaked, power lines down and debris scattered everywhere. A large 'spear' of timber from the Wilbur Wright was stuck through the house's roof exiting through the back door. The couple in the attached house had seen the waterspout- alleged to be a mile at its base- jumped in their car out back and literally outran it speeding west up the street. I climbed my stairs to find all the windows sucked out, all my possessions scrambled and wet, and luckily my dog safe under a bed.
I looked north out the window hole and below the old wood beach house next door had been turned into a huge pile of sticks. No one was home at the time although an older lady from another house had, after running and lying in a ditch for safety, been crushed to death by a refrigerator thrown from the hotel.
I moved out the next week to Duck, a then small village to the north.
Its good to be home again. The pool is clean and there's summer and sailing left to enjoy. I just hope the tropical weather stays fair.