Residents may had become a little lax in their hurricane preparations before the 1996 season because we had not had any tropical weather systems make landfall around here for several years. But in mid-July, we found ourselves in the bull's eye with the arrival of Hurricane Bertha.
Earlier than summer, we had Tropical Storm Arthur make landfall around Cape Lookout and it caused about $1 million in damages. But a couple of months later, Hurricane Bertha came ashore between Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Beach, as a category one storm, but still resulted in extensive damage to fishing piers and homes and buildings along the coast.
I remember when Bertha was coming ashore on July 12th. Shirley Gilbert and I were doing the noon newscast and, from inside the studio, we could hear the wind from Bertha, along with equipment being tossed around outside.
We looked at each other several times during the commercial breaks when we heard, what we thought, were the air conditioning units being ripped off the roof of the television station. In reality, it was some old equipment that had been left at the back of the building, but it still shook us up a little, and neither of us could believe we were actually experiencing the landfall of a hurricane after so many years without one directly affecting us.
And in September, 1996, just after Labor Day, we had to go thru another hurricane, but a more powerful tropical system, called Fran. She was the strongest storm to make landfall in our area, a category three system, since Hurricane Hazel hit us in October, 1954.
Fran roared ashore near Bald Head Island, on September 5, 1996, at Cape Fear, with winds of 115 miles per hour. And a good example of how strong winds can affect buildings and structures was seen in the early morning hours when the top of the brick steeple of the First Baptist Church was blown over, resulting in thousands of bricks all over the ground and covering Market Street. The street was lined with crews from the major networks, and some North Carolina stations, show the world an unbelievable sight.