A look back at Sept. 5, 1996

By on September 5, 2016

Hurricane Fran satellite imagery from National Weather Service

Hurricane Fran satellite imagery from National Weather Service

Hermine is only the latest in a long line of tropical cyclones to affect North Carolina over the past century. One particularly notorious storm struck the state 20 years ago.

If you lived in North Carolina in 1996, Sept. 5 is likely a day that you won’t forget. It’s the day most North Carolinians went to bed to heavy rain and strong winds and woke up to a world that looked like it had been torn apart. Hurricane Fran hit the coast as a Category 3 hurricane and barreled through the middle of the state, causing widespread damage to everything in her path. Almost half the state saw damage. Raleigh was particularly hard hit, with thousands of trees hitting homes and cars and causing millions in damage.

Part of the department’s staff was out of town for the third annual Mountain State Fair. But even after the fair ended three days later and we returned to Raleigh, the devastation in the Piedmont and eastern parts of the state was unbelievable. Then-Gov. Jim Hunt declared an emergency and encouraged state employees to stay home to help their neighbors. Many places were without power for days or even weeks. And North Carolinians learned the importance of gassing up vehicles and stocking up on water and other necessities before a storm hits. Lines for gas stations were long, ATMs were without power, and chainsaws and generators were hot commodities. But it created a deep sense of community as neighbors worked to help one another out. (It also brought out the worst in some people, and a price gouging law was later developed to prevent people from being scammed in a time of crisis.)

Just before Fran hit, the September Agricultural Review boasted the headline “Hurricane Bertha wallops state. Farm losses at $179 million.” Bertha hit the state in mid-July. After a visit to the eastern part of the state, then-Commissioner Jim Graham said: “I saw the numbers and heard the stories about the extent of the damage, but I was astonished to see the severity of the damage. We saw 100-acre fields of corn that were completely flattened and huge fields of tobacco that were drowned, blown over or both.” But that was to be nothing compared with the punch Fran would make six weeks later.

“Hurricane Bertha wallops state. Farm losses at $179 million.”
~September 1996 Agricultural Review

The October issue of the Agricultural Review started “Hurricane Fran caused more than $625 million in damage to North Carolina’s agriculture industry, more than three times the damage caused by Hurricane Bertha.” Graham noted that figures were likely to increase, especially with the post-hurricane flooding along rivers and tributaries in the area where the storm hit.

“Hurricane Fran caused more than $625 million in damage to North Carolina’s agriculture industry, more than three times the damage caused by Hurricane Bertha.”
~October 1996 Agricultural Review

Forests were especially hard hit. Many were uprooted after Hurricane Bertha soaked the ground and then powerful Fran blew them over. “Hurricane Fran cut deep into the state’s forest lands causing an estimated $1.3 billion in damage and affecting about 44 percent of the acreage in the state,” according the November Agricultural Review.

Hurricane Fran cut deep into the state’s forest lands causing an estimated $1.3 billion in damage and affecting about 44 percent of the acreage in the state”
~November 1996 Agricultural Review

In the October issue, alongside information for the 1996 N.C. State Fair, the article mentioned that the damage attracted the president to the state for a tour. “President Bill Clinton surveyed the damage following the storm along with Gov. Jim Hunt. Clinton later met with National Guard troops, AmeriCorps volunteers, Raleigh residents and government officials at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. In the week following the hurricane’s destructive visit through Raleigh and surrounding areas, the fairgrounds became the temporary housing site for thousands of National Guardsmen and volunteers.”

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