I don't remember Bertha as well as I do Fran. I remember we immediately got into Hurricane mode--meaning wall-to-wall coverage. I recall the storm being short-lived but frightening to the community. Residents taped up their windows, headed to the grocery stores and cleaned off the shelves. Many left town.
Truthfully, as I look back, I think of Bertha as a dress rehearsal to Fran.
I remember Hurricane Fran well. There were lots of jokes in the newsroom because the storm had my name. It turned out to be anything but a joke. It was no laughing matter.
Hurricane Fran was devastating. As the winds picked up and it was clear this was going to be a serious storm storm, we hunkered down in the newsroom for the long haul. The phones rang off the hook. People were terrified and didn't know what to do. Grocery stores were uncertain about how long they should stay open. Gas stations were crowded with motorists filling up in case they had to leave town. Shelters were filling up quickly. It was chaotic, and that was before the hurricane made landfall.
As soon as our meteorologist determined Fran was, in fact, going to strike our area, we started wall-to-wall coverage. We all came in with clothes for a couple days. Sleeping arrangements would be anywhere you could find an empty sofa, an open spot on the floor in someone's office, or a quite room in a chair. For those of us who had families here, it was tormenting. We had a job to do, but wanted to make sure they were safe. And, quite frankly, if something bad was going to happen, we wanted to be there with them.
As the storm was approaching, we were all going out doing reports. All of us in the newsroom. I remember going out with a photographer to get footage near Wrightsville Beach. He happened to live nearby and wanted to stop by his house to make sure his girlfriend was okay. She wasn't. She was hysterical after watching our reports. He told her to pack her bags and head to the TV station. She did, as did several other family members of WECT employees.
I recall the height of the storm hitting sometime during the evening of September 5. I don't recall the exact time as we had been on 12 hour on-the-air shifts and the time was becoming insignificant. We did live reports from the field when we could. We did telephone interviews with people who described the conditions where they were. Lots of viewers called in telling us about downed trees, furniture blown over in their yards from their neighbors, and, of course, widespread power outages. The phone lines were lit up during the entire duration of the storm.
So what do I remember most? I remember three things: I was first, and foremost, relieved to know that my family was fine. I was happy to know that my neighbors, Dr. Chuck and Carol Kays, made sure my cat, who was alone, was okay. Secondly, I remember driving home in the wee hours of the morning and being so tired that I saw what looked liked glass snakes crossing the road in front of me. I remember driving over tree branches in my small sports car, taking a chance on ruining my car because I wanted to get home that badly.
I slept for maybe two hours before getting a call from the news director who wanted the anchors to come in that morning to go out and report from the field. That leads to my third most memorable experience with Fran. My photographer and I tried to cross the Snow's Cut Bridge to get video of Carolina Beach and to access the damage. The National Guard would not let us through.
I'll always be forever grateful to the late Betty Medlin, the mayor of Kure Beach at the time. She came over and said "fellas, let Ms. Weller through." We were escorted over the bridge in a national guard vehicle.