After Hurricane Dorian passed through Southport, residents woke Friday to the power still out from the night before but saw only minor damage from the Category 2 storm that brought winds reaching 69 miles per hour and close to five inches of rain, according to the most recent reports from the National Weather Service.
As people waited for their electricity to be restored many began clean up of the scattered branches and twigs in their yards and sighed with relief that, by comparison, Dorian’s aftermath was nowhere near last year’s disastrous Hurricane Florence.
Almost a year after that storm, a Category 1 that brought a devastating amount of rainfall, the minimal impacts of Dorian were not taken for granted. The eye of the hurricane had jogged toward the east on Thursday, sparing the city from its full wrath.
Southport assessment crews hit the streets at daybreak on Friday and at 9 a.m. the city lifted its curfew that had been in effect since noon the day prior. A few trees and cable lines were down and some debris, mainly small limbs, blocked roadways, but most were quickly cleared by public works.
Southport fire chief Charles Drew found almost no structural damage as he and his team assessed the waterfront, parks and homes. He believes Hurricane Florence may have “taken care of” what was susceptible to the wind’s strength.
“We really dodged a bullet on this one,” Drew said Monday, his air mattress still blown up on his office floor in the fire headquarters which served as the emergency operations center during the storm. “We’re thankful that there wasn’t more damage.”
There were also no storm-related injuries or deaths in Southport. The worse effect seemed to be the citywide blackout which lasted close to 24 hours, a short amount of time when compared to previous storms.
The outage began at approximately 7:30 p.m. Thursday after the city’s main feeder line went down on River Road. It persisted until Friday night as circuits kept blowing during Brunswick Electric and Duke Energy crews’ attempts to energize the city. Debris laying across power lines delayed the process further. After nearly 24 hours, electricity was restored for the majority of the city and its more than 3,700 residents.
Southport city manager Bruce Oakley and Mayor Jerry Dove plan to meet with representatives from Brunswick Electric on Monday to discuss ways to regain power quicker following an outage, or to prevent it from going out at all.
For several days before Dorian’s passing, it was unclear whether the storm would be catastrophic for Brunswick County or simply graze the Carolina coast as it did in Florida. Home and business owners boarded up windows and put down sandbags Wednesday afternoon as the hurricane warning went into effect.
Few residents evacuated the city’s neighboring barrier islands Oak Island and Bald Head Island, even with the mandatory order by Gov. Roy Cooper in place, and even fewer Southport citizens chose to leave with just a voluntary evacuation for the city. Hunkered down in their homes, residents listened to the storm batter on their rooftops and feared warnings of tornados that never touched down in the area.
As the tide came in, areas along Bay Street experienced minor flooding and the infamously prone-to-flooding Yacht Basin parking lot was submerged. However, all of that subsided by morning, and none of the main corridors were impacted. Steven Pfaff of the NWS in Wilmington had told municipal officials the Tuesday before the storm that the county’s drought would provide a “cushion” for the rain.
The Southport Fire Department served as the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and host agency for the hurricane, and its headquarters provided a kitchen and sleeping quarters to those working. A National Guard team of six stationed there, bringing with them two high-clearance vehicles and equipment for swift water rescues and evacuations — none of which were needed.
Those at the EOC were apprehensive but remained alert and ready to respond. After realizing how few calls were coming in, Drew said some were able to breathe easier and engage in fellowship and games.
Government offices and most businesses remained closed Friday as they had planned in anticipation of significant damage.
Brunswick County Schools students returned to class Monday, including those of South Brunswick High School, which was a shelter for 20 evacuees and five animals throughout the storm. The shelter opened Wednesday morning as a third option after the state’s mandatory evacuation order for the barrier islands went out. It was a low turn out at the school compared to last September when approximately 350 people took refuge from Florence.
Friday evening, World Central Kitchens Food Truck provided a treat in front of Trinity United Methodist Church to those who had gone three meals without electricity: a free hot dinner. As volunteers handed white trays to gracious residents out the truck window, the streets and homes lit back up with electricity, just in time for sunset, radiating a feeling of the calm after the storm.
The generosity of the free meals seemed to be the most aid the resilient city of Southport accepted. Others offering helping hands were referred to communities less fortunate.