October 15, 1954 – Hurricane Hazel Hits Wake Forest

(A report published in the storm’s aftermath.) 

Wake Foresters listened to radios and read the day’s paper Thursday evening about the eighth lady of the season to rear up and menace the United States eastern coast.

Hurricane Hazel was on the move. She had already done untold damage to Haiti and the Bermudas and had pointed her powerful nose toward North Carolina’s coast.

There was nothing unusual about a hurricane. It was the season for them. Besides hurricanes Carol and Edna had already battered the Carolina coast. To all appearances the coast was in for another rough time, but that was all.

Friday morning dawned wet and only slightly windy bringing some needed rain and a little relief from recent high temperatures.

But by this time it was fairly obvious that the Wake Forest area would be buffeted by strong, probably gale-force winds as high as 60 miles-an-hour.

Earth Drinks Rain

The earth drank in heavily falling rains, and anyone caught out in the open found himself thoroughly wet before he could make his way from one class to another.

Classes did go on, however, despite the increasingly miserable weather. One professor doggedly stuck it out even though crashing winds outside and classes letting out early all over the building made it impossible for him to be heard.

It was only around noon that several excited souls began to realize that Wake Forest might get hit by a real live hurricane.

The elements played their parts in the drama to the hilt for along toward 1 p.m. the wind died to a dead calm and the rain only drizzled. To complete the setting, low, dark clouds overhead raced across the sky.

Some campus photographers snapped pictures of coeds playing in the rain. The rest polished their lenses and waited.

Finally It Begins

Then, somewhere close to 2 p.m., the awaited began.

At first, strong, whipping winds tossed branches and pushed walls of spray across the campus.

Two coeds ran laughing to their dormitory, stopping now and then to get their faces wet and slosh their feet in puddles of water. One coed’s umbrella suddenly flipped inside out.

Doorways were crowded. People stood in the dark and waited expectantly hoping a tree or part of a building would fall in front of their eyes.

A student and his coed friend huddled together behind an umbrella on Bostwick’s porch seemingly unconcerned with the storm.

The last students left their classes, bent their bodies forward, and pushed for safety, grasping their hats and raincoats to them.

Photographers ducked low wires, branches, stinging rain, and everything loose to take somewhere around 200 pictures of the storm.

Trees Give Away

Tree after tree groaned and gave away. Five persons in Benny’s Drive In on Highway 1 reportedly watched Hazel rip off half the roof and start to push the other half over the building’s front to the tune of falling brick and mortar.

On the campus, lights went out and phones went dead. The inside of every building was dim.

Meanwhile leaves shredded from the violently tossing trees outside littered streets, pelted automobiles, and dashed into any open door accompanied by sheets of rain.

Near the tennis courts a mammoth willow oak swayed first one way then another between two frail little homes then crashed forward, flattening Eugene Edison’s automobile virtually into the ground.

Professor J.L. Memory had just planted his automobile behind the Alumni Building when a cedar tree planted itself on top of the car’s hood.

Look At Hurricane

All the while a few brave ones soaked their feet, their clothes, and their skins to see what a real hurricane looked like.

They gingerly avoided wires torn down and lying in the street. Near Gore Gym they inspected two automobiles covered by the branches of a fallen tree.

Then, as she had come, suddenly Hazel was gone, whirling away northward. The darkening sky calmed. Before long, clouds had broken apart, stars blinking on one by one.

Debris littered the campus. Some trees had snapped in two, their splintered trunks outlined against the evening sky. Others, up on end, exposed their dirt-covered roots.

In the town cemetery a grave had sunken from the rains. Doctor Tom Jeffries’ tombstone had toppled over and was leaning against a tree.

Aftermath Of Storm

As a sort of aftermath of the storm, wet, slippery streets caused the collision of a student’s automobile with a truck.

Employees of the town faced a three-day task of straightening up Hazel’s damage. The police force was busy directing the removal of trees that blocked almost every street.

Hazel’s center had passed just to the east of Wake Forest–not farther than five miles away. The winds? Ninety miles-an-hour or stronger.

By the time the skies had completely cleared of clouds the temperature had begun to drop. The last vestiges of an Indian summer had disappeared for good.

Telephone wires lay half-coiled in the street past Gore Gym and each time a car passed over them they pinged like little tinkling bells in the cold night.

(Reported by William Pate/Photographs by Leslie Fox and Van Swearingen. Published in the Wake Forest College newspaper, the Old Gold and Black, on October 25, 1954.)

One comment

  1. I was a junior in Wilmington’s New Hanover High School when Hazel hit and turned Wrightsville Beach streets into sand, studded with shards of wooden houses and debris. These pictures on campus are very much like the campus when Fran took down so many trees. Let’s pray Florence treats us better than the other two “ladies.”

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