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Riding out the storm

Couple catches Fran's landfall on videotape

September 11, 1996
Web posted at: 1:10 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Charles Zewe


NORTH TOPSAIL BEACH, North Carolina (CNN) -- While hundreds of thousands of people evacuated ahead of Hurricane Fran's landfall last week, a handful tried to ride out the storm.

Among them were Gerry Ager and Harry Hutton, who, along with their three-legged cat Kitty Bear, try to carry on a normal life in a house that remained virtually untouched in a disaster zone. They ignored the evacuation order and watched Fran come ashore overnight Thursday -- outside their front door.

"This one I think was scarier because it was dark, and when it's dark you can't see what's going on," said Ager, who has lived through hurricanes before. icon(5 sec/64K AIFF or WAV sound)

Ager and Hutton were among the few people to be so close to the strike zone of one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit North Carolina. Through the night, the couple kept a running video record of Fran's landfall.

"The noise was phenomenal and you really couldn't tell anything except that when it got dark, it got noisier," Hutton said.

power lines
movie icon (12 sec/526K QuickTime movie of Ager and Hutton's amateur video)

The pair watched the ocean send 15-foot breakers over sand dunes only yards from their house. They watched the winds build. They also saw utility poles spark and tumble and knew Fran was bearing down on them.

But Hutton said he wasn't frightened.

"Apprehensive, I think, wanting to know what's going to happen in the next five minutes," he said.

At first light Friday, they were among the first to know their community had been virtually destroyed. Since the storm, the couple has not left the island or their house. If they leave, they will only be able to return for 30 minutes at a time, like everyone else.

"We knew that if we left we couldn't get back," Ager said. "We knew the power would be off elsewhere, so why go elsewhere?"

Neighbors who've returned to check their own houses have brought the couple food. They get power from Hutton's arc welder generator. And both are convinced riding out Fran was a scary, but right, choice for them.

"Lucky I don't think is the right word," Ager said. "Fortunate, blessed. But lucky -- lucky's not the right word. We were just blessed 100 percent."


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