It was 60 years ago that Hurricane Hazel hit the North Carolina-South Carolina border as a Category 4 storm. Those who were around still remember it; those who came along later heard the stories. For Hazel’s 50th anniversary, N&O staff writer Martha Quillin collected stories and memories of that monster storm.
It rode in on the morning of Oct. 15, coinciding with lunar high tide, the highest tide of the year. The combination of fierce wind and high water gave the storm the momentum to set records that haven’t been displaced for five decades.
Arriving in time for breakfast and moving on by lunch, the eye of the storm came and went in four or five hours, eager to see the rest of the East Coast on its way to Canada. When it passed just east of Raleigh, with winds of 80 to 100 mph, it was moving at 50 mph, about the same speed as a typical vacationer in those days on the way to the beach. –The N&O, Oct. 10, 2004
Lots of locals had stories to tell after Hazel swept through Raleigh.
Harry Hatchell, 39, of 222 N. Person Street, was treated at Rex Hospital for injuries received when he was blown half a block along Fayetteville Street at the height of the hurricane about 1:30. Hatchell said he left his car in the vicinity of Walgreen’s Drug Store to tell his wife, who is employed in the Charles Store, that he had taken their children home from school.
“First thing I knew I was knocked off my feet ... Then I didn’t know anything until I woke up in the Charles Store,” said Hatchell at the hospital. – The N&O, Oct. 16, 1954
Most of the city lost power, including The News and Observer and The Raleigh Times, which missed its first full day of publication in 40 years.
The Times, with its first edition already on the streets, was in the midst of its final edition when the power went out around 1:30 p.m. Without current it became impossible to set type, roll and cast pages and operate the press. Reporters, printers and pressmen stood by until late in the afternoon in hopes of having power in time to put the city final edition to bed – even if past the usual press time. – The Raleigh Times, Oct. 16, 1954
That undelivered Friday paper was delivered with the Saturday’s publication to subscribers.
All of Raleigh’s radio stations were off the air. Durham’s WDNC remained on the air and broadcast telephone calls from Raleigh with news of the storm.
Rex Hospital, then at St. Mary’s Street and Wade Avenue, experienced some excitement when the power went out, completing an operation by flashlight as well as delivery of two babies.
The greatest concentrated damage apparently occurred at the Municipal Airport on U.S. Highway 15A, where ten hangars and eight planes were lost.
The U.S. Weather Bureau at the Raleigh-Durham Airport reported that no noticeable damage had been done there, other than fallen trees. The strongest wind of the storm occurred at 1:30 p.m. there, carrying west, north-west winds of 50 miles an hour with gusts up to 100 miles an hour.
Heavy damage was also reported at the State Fair grounds, where display booths and exhibit stalls had already been set up. Dr. J.S. Dorton, manager of the fair, said Saturday that despite the set back, the fair will open on Tuesday, Oct. 19, as scheduled.
Workmen late Friday had already started clearing away the debris and making emergency repairs to the buildings – many of which were shambles. Dorton said it was too early to estimate damage to the grounds but several buildings, including the industrial exhibits and some livestock barns will require considerable repairs. The huge arena was undamaged. – The Raleigh Times, Oct. 16, 1954
Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/pasttimes.