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1 year later: Family of 9 remembers frightening Hurricane Isaias rescue

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 6:56 PM EDT
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OAK ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) - Its been a full year since Isaias struck Brunswick county, causing devastating flooding and widespread damage to areas of Southport, Oak Island and Holden Beach.

It’s a storm visitors like the Hughes family will never forget.

Katie Hughes and her family were trapped in their Oak Island vacation rental the night Hurricane Isaias made landfall. When Hughes first called 911, units told her they couldn’t get to her family of nine as waves pummeled the bottom floor of the house.

Once the waters receded, Hughes, her three young children, her brother and his children, her mother and her basset hound were rescued in the sheriff’s office MRAP.

The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office’s high water vehicle drove them to safety where they were able to find shelter and work out how they would get back home to Virginia.

The waves knocked out all the walls downstairs, flooded the lower level and swept away both of their cars. Photos of the home show the exterior door cracked in half, metal stairwells twisted, insulation hanging from beams and siding ripped completely off of the beach house.

The family members left without their belongings, but no one was hurt. It’s a terrifying experience Hughes and her kids still think about.

“We didn’t think we would make it through that night,” said Hughes. “We just remember being huddled in the back of the house near the bathroom all of us — you know — clumped up together just not sure if we were going to make it out. We could hear the waves hitting up underneath the house.”

A year later, you’d never know what transpired by looking at the house on West Beach Drive. The property has been totally repaired, complete with new, bright-colored siding.

It’s a story that holds true for much of the rest of Oak Island.

Businesses and homeowners have made their repairs. The sand that used to cover the roads is gone, the beach has been transformed, and the town has completed many of the repairs to walkovers, docks and other amenities damaged in the storm.

“I think it’s clear to see in a years time that we’re bouncing back strong,” said public information officer Mike Emory. “We’re right here on the coast, right here at the Cape and these things happen. The question really isn’t why these things happen, the question is how prepared are we for them and how willing are we to bounce back from them?”

The town has also made steps to be more prepared for next time, passing a mandatory evacuation policy for non-residents should another serious storm come their way.

It’s a change visitors like Hughes was excited to hear about.

“It definitely makes me feel a lot better and hopefully this won’t happen for anybody else,” Hughes added.

Should another serious storm impact Oak Island, town leaders say they will be ready to protect the island and build back better than before.

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