Fifty years ago this month, North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Hazel,
at the time the greatest natural disaster in the state's history. On
the morning of October 15, 1954, Hazel slammed into the coast near
the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, a strong category
four storm packing winds of 155 miles per hour. Beachfront
property along the southeastern coast was decimated, leaving entire
sections where not a single structure was left standing. The
storm moved due north, continuing to inflict damage. In
Wilson, there were gusts of up to one hundred miles per hour and even
in Chapel Hill, more than 150 miles from the coast, the storm remained
strong, bringing sixty-eight mile per hour winds, uprooting trees,
destroying homes, and dumping about four and a half inches of rain
on the town.
The damage done by Hazel was catastrophic. Nineteen North Carolinians were killed,
fifteen thousand buildings were destroyed, and thirty-nine thousand more
were damaged. Thirty North
Carolina counties were affected by the storm. Although
some recent hurricanes have rivaled Hazel in the amount of damage measured
in financial terms, none have topped its strength. In the fifty years since Hazel, no other storm at a strength
of category four or higher has reached North Carolina.
Chapel Hill in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel. Photograph
by Roland Giduz, 1954. Roland Giduz Collection, North Carolina
Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
for Further Reading:
Jay Barnes, North Carolina's Hurricane History. Third
edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
"Hurricane Hazel Was Biggest Catastrophe Ever to Hit
N.C." Durham Morning Herald (Durham, N.C.), October
"Town Pulls Through Hurricane, But Damage is Heavy." Chapel
Hill News Leader (Chapel Hill, N.C.), October 18, 1954.