As Hurricane Matthew came in on Saturday, the townsfolk came out, bringing their kids and their cameras to get photos of big water and bent-over trees.
The storm, which proved deadly in other parts of North Carolina and the Southeast, was more of a high-powered tourist attraction in this town along the Cape Fear River.
“This is my first hurricane,” said Sarah Reda, who with her boyfriend, Warren Bickerstaff, walked down to the city’s riverfront park late Saturday afternoon between squalls.
“We’re an odd bunch out here,” said Bickerstaff. “Unless there are bodies in the street, people are going to be out here looking around.”
Periods of heavy rain and tropical-storm-force winds that started early Saturday morning caused some damage around town. The worst appeared to be a break in a bulkhead at the end of Howe Street. With the bulkhead breached, water from the Cape Fear poured into a parking lot and lapped at Oliver’s Restaurant.
Police had tried to block the street.
“But people are just driving around those barricades and coming on down here anyway,” said Southport Officer Riley Ransom. As he watched people walking around taking videos and selfies in the blowing rain, Ransom said, “It’s been so long since we had a major hurricane, nobody’s afraid.”
Throughout the day, there were small traffic jams along the waterfront and along streets that bordered the Old Yacht Basin, a low-lying spot where bars and restaurants overlook the river. A handful of boats bobbled in their slips just beyond the businesses, and at least two feet of water riffled in the parking area behind them.
Matthew had the potential to be costly to the many boat owners who moor their vessels at several marinas around Southport; a high storm surge could have wrecked hundreds of boats. The tide came in several feet above normal, but it was not enough to lift docks off their posts, and boats that were well lashed appeared to fare fine. They rocked and swayed in the wind, their rigging clattering like a symphony of wind chimes.
Several utility trucks and workers were parked in the Southport Wal-Mart lot, poised to make needed repairs to downed lines, but most residents never lost power. The wind did threaten to knock over one utility pole downtown, but workers were able to stand it back up.
Besides the spotty flooding, the only other excitement in town was the brief opening of Bob’s E-Z Way, a convenience store. Every other business in town appeared shut down.
“We just came down to check on the store, and as soon we opened the doors, people started coming in,” said Nani Patel, who owns the store with her husband. “So we thought we might as well stay open and help people.”
A couple of hours later, the snack rack was down to a few bags of chips and some oatmeal pies. The lights on the beer coolers remained off; alcohol sales were cut off Friday night as a result of the state’s emergency declaration.
David Hedrick didn’t really need anything, except to get out of his house.
“It’s called boredom,” Hedrick said, stepping inside the store. Like dozens of others, he had been out riding around town. His two Shih Tzus were riding shotgun.
“They were getting antsy,” he said, “from being in the house.”
Hedrick said he might stay out through the afternoon, even though wind speeds of 45 mph are predicted, with gusts up to 65 mph possible.
“It depends on how bad it gets.”