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Irene and Hurricanes past – Fran 1996

As Hurricane Irene progresses a path that includes most of the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina to New York and beyond I recall a night nearly 15 years ago in a farm house in southern Person County near Timberlake as Hurricane Fran cut a path through central North Carolina progressing through Raleigh and Person County into Virginia.

My daughter Laura a student at NCSU at the time was prepared to ride the storm out in a house with a basement near Western Boulevard that she had rented with other classmates for the semester.

I had called her a few days earlier and asked her to get prepared with water, flashlights, batteries and several days of food, etc. Little did I know the storm would take out every living tree on the lot of the rental house all the way to Western Boulevard including one tree near the house in which the roots pulled the gas line loose and the smell of gas along with water started coming into the basement.

What to do during the middle of the night with the hurricane raging outside with no power and limited communications as we had no cells phones at that time. Another location was found not too far away that she and her future husband Matt and friends decided to go for … Laura was taught at an early age on our family farm to drive a straight shift 1979 Toyota pickup at the age of 8 on the back forty starting on a hill no doubt to refine her skill and had to view the road under the top of the steering wheel. As she got older and with a little fussing on her part she learned to drive the “2” wheeled drive Toyota pickup through rough challenging back farm roads in both Person and Granville counties with mud holes that would almost go over the top of the truck hood and to hesitate was to be stuck in a mess. She mastered her driving skill quite well and later developed her 4 wheel drive skills on the sandy beaches of Ocracoke Island which Irene will likely hammer hard.

Needless to say she was the chosen one to do the driving during that perilously night of Hurricane Fran – first shifting into 4 wheel drive and then finding the paths to take as there were many trees and power lines down on the streets of Raleigh in the black of night with raging winds. As I have been told she drove around downed trees, through yards and crossing ditches using the skills she had developed years earlier on the back farm roads and finally found safe shelter to ride out the storm.

In the meantime I had prepared as much as possible to take care of my parents and especially my extremely ill father who was dying from a botched colon cancer surgery a year earlier. My father had an electric powered feeding tube as well as both bags so having running water and electricity was critical. I had made to call to local electric company Piedmont Electric and informed them of our situation a few days earlier.

It was the longest night ever for me as I lay in the upstairs bed looking out the window southward toward Raleigh hoping and praying my beloved Laura was ok? The wind bounced the flag connectors against the near by flag pole all night and really all I could see was the outline of the porch roof against the southern sky.

As an agriculture producer with approximately 1800 acres of grain in the field I feared the wind on the corn and needed the rain for the soybeans much like the very dry Eastern North Carolina this year as Hurricane Irene rains will help some crops and damage others. In my case in 1996 with my father’s condition I could not find time to go 1 mile 2 weeks prior to the storm to even put the corn head on the combine so no corn was yet harvested.

Upon daylight I checked on my parents and made sure they were stable and ok and then took a short ride around the neighborhood. Trees were down everywhere, I could not get to my farm across the road and water covered the roads in every direction. I have never seen so much water before or since in the area. The wind blew down the very best corn which was still green and soybeans had been wind blown but I did not have time to check if pods were blown off. I remember swallowing very hard when viewing what had been our best corn that year.

There were other issues to deal with father’s care and Piedmont Electric did a wonderful job getting the power back on late in the day. I was so thankful.

Back in 1996 the crop insurance for grain in Person County was worthless and there was no assistance from any federal agency to help us in any manner. Even the crews that were supposed to come around to pick trees limbs, etc. somehow managed to miss our farm. There was not 1 penny in assistance to cover our lost from any entity. Nothing.

For those of you that are experiencing the long day or night of Hurricane Irene I have nothing but empathy for you. We’ve been there and were lucky. May God and the Angels be with you.

Ronald N Day


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