Hurricane Irene: North Carolina couple, 87 and 82, wait for Irene
Jack Wilson isn’t sure how bad things might get when the back wall of Hurricane Irene slams into this island town sometime Saturday afternoon. But he does know this much: As hurricanes go, Irene is "on the mild side," he said.
"We’ve seen a lot worse," Wilson said Saturday.
Wilson, Manteo, N.C.'s, former fire chief, is 87. Born and raised on Roanoke Island, a few miles west of Nags Head and the Outer Banks, he has weathered the worst of the dozens of hurricanes, nor’easters and squalls that have pummeled his beloved Roanoke Island over the years.
Wilson has survived North Carolina’s deadliest hurricanes -– unnamed monster storms in 1933 and 1944, plus Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Hurricane Donna in 1960 and the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962. He remembers eight feet of water in downtown Manteo during Donna.
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Irene has done much so far to impress him, he said, though he maintains a healthy respect for all storms that barrel up the Pamlico Sound and blast Roanoke Island and the Outer Banks with sheets of water.
"It’s going to get worse later," Wilson said Saturday, relaxing in an easy chair inside his solid brick home overlooking Roanoke Sound.
He and his wife, Estelle, 82, passed a relatively peaceful night Friday. The power went out about 9 a.m. Saturday. No problem -– Wilson switched on a generator, powering the coffee maker, refrigerator and TV, and running air conditioning in one room.
The Wilsons have never fled a hurricane. Authorities ordered all of Dare County’s 35,000 residents to evacuate, but many locals have stayed put inside their battened-down homes, as they always do.
"We’ve never even considered leaving here –- period," Estelle Wilson said. "They just said on TV that it might be seven days before people who evacuated can get back in. We don’t want any part of that."
The couple watched the Weather Channel as a weatherman tried to stand up straight as he was buffeted by wind and rain.
"Propaganda," Jack Wilson said. "Just watch the barometer and ignore the propaganda."
He believes weather forecasters hype storms for better ratings. Hurricanes are serious business, he says, but they're manageable if you keep calm and pay attention.
As he watched satellite images of the massive storm, Wilson described how Irene is likely to continue pushing north up the Pamlico Sound, dumping walls of water in its wake. But the storm’s back end will be the worst part, he said.
Outside his front door, the Roanoke Sound was at the lowest level the Wilsons have seen in years. The storm had forced the water out -– for the moment.
Later in the day, he said, the sound will suddenly fill with water and a dramatic shift in wind direction as the hurricane passes will send all that water crashing over the island.
"We’ll probably get some pretty good flooding," he said, "but we’ll come out just fine, like we always do."
-- David Zucchino in Manteo, N.C.
Photo: Waters lap at the foundation of a house along Calico Creek Saturday in Morehead City, N.C. Credit: Travis Long / The News & Observer / Associated Press