When the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996, the High Museum of Art did a remarkable exhibit, called Rings: Five Passions in World Art, that showcased pieces from all around the world reflecting five different themes (reflecting the five Olympic rings): love, anguish, awe, triumph, and joy.
One of the paintings featured in the Awe section was Ivan Aivazovsky's The Wave. Although I cannot find a picture of it online to link here, the painting was immense, about seven feet tall, and portrayed a gigantic wave, bearing down on a tiny boatful of people. I wish I could find a picture of the painting to link . . . it conveys the sensation so much better than words. Still, I think of that painting when I read this article from the New York Times, preserved here for posterity.
Fickle Isabel Leaves Hatteras in Tatters
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
Over Cape Hatteras, N.C., Sept. 19, 2003
From the air, the storm's capriciousness came clear: here, a hamlet devastated by flood, wind and sand; a mile away, a town untouched.
In Hatteras Village, entire motels were picked up off their foundations and tossed like cigarette butts. Just to the south, at one end of Ocracoke Island, hundreds of yards of beach and highway were washed out; at the other end, home to most of its residents and businesses, it seemed as if Isabel had blinked and missed the town on its way by.
From the ground, the storm was just as fickle, crushing some homes and sparing others, leaving neighbors to console one another and then pitch in with a chainsaw.
At least 30 counties — virtually all of eastern North Carolina --- were heavily damaged as the storm marched northwest. But if residents of the Outer Banks endured the most severe destruction, they at least were prepared for it by long acquaintance with nature's worst.
Sixty miles inland, meanwhile, the hurricane left whole cities all but paralyzed. In Elizabeth City, north of Albemarle Sound, 95 percent of residents were without power, officials said. In many coastal communities, where the infrastructure was severely damaged, the lights were not expected to come on for days or even weeks.
At the southern foot of a bridge across Albemarle Sound, William Jones, 49, surveyed the wreckage of the small mobile home encampment his uncle owns. Two trailers closest to the water were obliterated, though neither was occupied at the time. Mr. Jones, a logger, said he sat in his own trailer, watching ---until his window blew in and strewed shattered glass on his floor -- and listening in awe.
"It was just popping and snapping, popping and snapping," he said, describing the tall pines coming down around him. "Oh man, it sounded like dynamite going off."
Across this fertile country of farms and forests, two-lane highways were ribboned with mournfully sagging power lines, or half-blocked by fallen trees freshly sawed to make way again for man and machine.
In Edenton, a small city with a harbor on the sound, that haven proved unsafe. One sailboat at the marina wound up on the dock, another several yards away in a sand pile. A motorboat wound up straddling the backyard swimming pool of a waterfront home, making for an ungainly diving board.
As the sun began to set, Edenton was still digging out, its staggered citizens gathering twigs and branches from lawns while 2- and 3-foot-thick tree trunks nestled undisturbed in their attics.
In Windsor, south of Edenton, a gas station with a generator powering its pumps did a tremendous business filling up cars and trucks and cans and jugs and just about anything with a screw top. By dusk the manager was asking the patrons lined up four cars deep at eight pumps to switch to unleaded-plus, because the cheaper stuff had run out.
Others had it worse: Swan Quarter, caught between Pamlico Sound and Lake Mattamuskeet, was pretty well submerged.
Residents on the Outer Banks, who pride themselves on ignoring evacuation orders and tell hurricane tales the way some people tell fish stories, had won unwanted credibility for years to come.
The beach road, Highway 12, was a sand-swept dotted line from one harrowing scene to another.
In Hatteras Village, residents described seeing people clinging to trees when their homes slid out from under them. A woman was on the ground floor of the Seagull Motel when it started to float away; she climbed to the attic before being rescued from chest-deep water.
Tim Midgett, a Hatteras Village resident who is chairman of the Dare County Tourism Board, watched the storm from a three-story observation tower he has at his house. At about 1 p.m., he said, he could not believe his eyes.
"I said, `What's going on here?' " he said. " `It's like a wall of water coming.' "
When he finally got out and about his hometown, he said, it was pancaked.
"The Seagull Motel is smithereens," he said. "It was washed from the oceanfront across Highway 12, a few hundred feet. Three motels have done that. They're all totaled."
"We have no water, no hopes of getting water," he said. "I saw the exposed water pipes in the breaches. All the infrastructure went through those breaches. We don't have gas. Everything, all the utilities are gone."
Mr. Midgett said his neighbors were bewildered but somehow still keeping their spirits up.
"People are more walking around in shock and disbelief than anything," he said. "We're a resilient bunch. A lot of people lost their homes, some people had two- or three-generation family businesses that are gone. But everybody's upbeat, kind of in amazement."
Ollie Jarvis, owner of Dillon's Corner, a gas station in Buxton, lost just one of his two pumps ---and the canopy over them. "The place right across the street from me weren't even touched, and they've got eight pumps," he said.
He said his mother-in-law's motel had three feet of sand in the swimming pool.
"She's better off than a lot of people," Mr. Jarvis said.
"As we speak right now, the water's receding," he added. "Under my building there are a bunch of little fish swimming around. The ocean came into the pond at a ball field about a half-mile from me, so there's freshwater, too. There's one big two-pound bass lying dead in front of my building. But I tell you what: I feel lucky."
On Roanoke Island, Ken Daidone, the head of an insurance adjustment concern, emerged from his fortress-like house on high, wooded ground in Manteo to find just a dented gutter. But then his fax started humming with reports of claims all over.
"This was the biggest storm this area has seen in the 20 years I've been here," Mr. Daidone said.
He had chosen his home for its location, and for its shape ---a hexagon that has few sharp corners for the wind to catch. Others were not so fortunate.
A short drive away, roughly half the pine trees in one neighborhood snapped like matchsticks. One, two, three, four, Kalim Williams heard crack and fall as he cowered indoors with his wife and three children. The tall one in the alley between his house and his neighbor's somehow toppled forward and to the side, missing even his picket fence. Then he heard the one that hit.
"It sounded like thunder," he said. It bounced off his roof, taking only a small bite out of the frame of his house, then slammed into his front porch --- right outside his youngest child's window.
Mr. Williams, who moved to Manteo last fall from New York City, said he had had a chance to leave before the storm. "But I've never seen a hurricane before," he said.
Was he homesick for the city? "I'm not going nowhere," Mr. Williams said.