Monday, June 27, 2022

Near high tide, full moon, and Isaias brought devastating storm surge to Oak Island

Vacationer Michael Davis carries his two-year-old son Wilkes through flooded East Pelican Drive, passing by one of many submerged vehicles claimed by Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Vacationer Michael Davis carries his two-year-old son Wilkes through flooded East Pelican Drive, passing by one of many submerged vehicles claimed by Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

OAK ISLAND — With the power still running, Kurt Kulpa was watching a movie with his wife when they noticed the first car float by. It was the first of four that night.

“That one went pretty quick. It just skirted right through,” Kulpa said of the red Dodge Charger, which eventually ended up lodged in debris behind the Publix more than a quarter-mile down the road. “The other ones hung up under landscaping here. I thought they were going to take out the front pilings.”

Related: In Pictures and Videos: Hurricane Isaias hits Carolina Beach

Sometime late Monday night, a six-to-seven foot storm surge had carved into a public access point less than a block away from Kulpa’s Oak Island home, turning East Beach Drive into a river.

High tide fell at around 8:20 p.m. and the moon was full. Hurricane Isaias made landfall a couple beach towns west by 11:10 p.m., bringing nearly 90 mph winds.

The surge turned dozens of 1.5-ton vehicles into buoys, crushing the underbelly of homes across the 11-mile island. The island’s two outermost roads that run parallel to the Atlantic were either packed full with sand, like a scene out of Mad Max, or filled with saltwater.

“I was so nervous that I couldn’t — I really couldn’t function,” Virginia vacationer Shannon Tilley, who’s staying on the west end of the island, said Tuesday morning. “I’m still nervous from it.”

Neighbors said a car’s alarm system, triggered by being bumped around in the surge, sparked a fire that ultimately claimed a home and four cars near SE 55th St. Though property damage was extensive across the island, there were no reported deaths or critical injuries.

The next day, scores of vacationers were left powerless, carless, and stranded. Reversing, beeping operations vehicles filled in the sand where the river flowed. A seemingly never-ending stream of helicopters flew by once every ten to fifteen minutes.

Despite the wreckage, the smell of sunscreen still filled the air. Families plopped beach chairs in front of rentals Tuesday morning, determined to enjoy their stay.

Isaias

Late Tuesday, the town issued a mandatory evacuation notice over nearly two-thirds of beachfront homes and a 6 p.m. curfew for the entire island.

Locals said they weren’t prepared for the water to rise as high as it did and that Isaias caused more damage to the island than any storm in recent memory.

Living two blocks inland, retired firefighter Kevin Kirby had his friend’s defunct, waterlogged car in his driveway. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen the water come up,” he said.

Kirby stayed up until 3 a.m., late enough to watch the house near 55th Street burn from afar. “This was nothing but a lake. I couldn’t walk out here. It was too deep,” he said. Though Isaias brought worse-than-usual flooding conditions to the island, Kirby pointed out that his road floods in non-storm events. The island has drainage issues along the beachfront even outside of hurricane season.

On day two of their vacation, Anthony Lewis and Becky Wong walked along East Beach Street carrying bags of ice that were quickly melting in the 90-degree heat. The night before, they allowed the family whose house burnt down to stay with them.

“We didn’t fully expect this,” Lewis said. “It was quite an experience.”

Because they arrived on the island later in the day, Wong said they still don’t know what it’s supposed to look like — without the sand-covered streets and flooded roadways.

Also on day two of his vacation, Morgan Darnell said $300-400 worth of groceries in the fridge of his rental was potentially going bad without power. Other than his phone and a hotspot, Darnell said his family was stranded. “At the moment, yes. I haven’t figured out a plan just yet,” he said.

Tuesday morning, Darnell’s three-year-old son Chandler played in a shelf of sand created by bulldozers attempting to clear East Beach Drive. “He was scared. He did fine until the power went out and then he kind of started freaking out. And then the house started shaking,” Darnell said. “You could feel the whole house sway.”

Without power and three cars totaled beneath his rental, Mark Disher celebrated the fact that his beer was still cold, resting on ice that hadn’t yet melted. After wading through floodwater with flashlights, first responders evacuated Disher’s family early Tuesday morning because embers from the fire were flying their way. Watching the bulldozers move sand later that morning, Disher and his wife said they were waiting to hear back from auto insurance companies.

“Hey, it’s something to talk about,” he said. “You just gotta roll with it, ya know?”

When tornado warnings came in earlier in the evening, full-time Oak Island resident Kathy Ipapo headed downstairs for shelter. She waited in an enclosed area until she noticed the water. “I saw water coming up in the driveway with suds on it. Rainwater doesn’t do that,” she said. “I was petrified.”

She headed upstairs but later realized she forgot her phone and box of important paperwork. The water was rushing too quickly and it was too late. Knowing her neighbors would be worried without an update, Ipapo shared some semblance of Morse code out her window with a flashlight to let them know she was O.K., finally catching the attention of a neighbor two doors down.

A neighbor’s porta-potty ended up flipped over in Ipapo’s backyard, furniture was submerged in her pool, her couch ended up next door, and her entire downstairs living area was trashed. But, even waterlogged, at least her phone still worked.

Nearby, another neighbor’s Mercedes was tucked nose-first in a backyard pool.

“It’s devastating,” Ipapo’s next-door neighbor and full-time resident Jill Giordano said. Even with a totaled Jeep nestled in her backyard, Giordano still held firm on what matters.

“You know what, these are all just things,” she said.

Check out more images from Oak Island the morning after Hurricane Isaias made landfall. Click on an image to scroll through:

Diane Mahar of the Oak Island Feral Club carries debris out of 54th Street, about two blocks inland. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Kevin Kirby clears debris out of 54th Street, located about two blocks inland. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Kevin Kirby pulls up pictures of the house fire he witnessed early Tuesday morning from his home, located about two blocks inland. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Kevin Kirby pulls up pictures of the house fire he witnessed early Tuesday morning from his home, located about two blocks inland. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
East Pelican Drive was completely submerged in saltwater midmorning Tuesday after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A red Dodge Charger floated more than a quarter-mile down the road and ended up lodged in debris behind the Publix, carried by Hurricane Isaias' storm surge. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A red Dodge Charger floated more than a quarter-mile down the road and ended up lodged in debris behind the Publix, carried by Hurricane Isaias’ storm surge. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Vacationer Michael Davis carries his two-year-old son Wilkes through flooded East Pelican Drive, passing by one of many submerged vehicles claimed by Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A pair of goggles rests in matted debris on SE 52nd Street. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A pair of goggles rests in matted debris on SE 52nd Street. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Flooded backyard pools and broken vinyl fences were common amongoceanfront properties. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Flooded backyard pools and broken vinyl fences were common amongoceanfront properties. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Anthony Lewis and Becky Wong carry ice along East Beach Drive to their rental, getting their first look at the island after arriving late Monday on day one of their vacation. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Vacationers kept enjoying oceanfront homes, even after the devastating impacts from Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Three-year-old Chandler Darnell plays in a shelf of sand off East Beach Drive, pushed up by bulldozers attempting to clear the roads after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A public access point off East Beach Drive caved in from the storm surge, giving ocean water a path to reach hundreds of oceanfront homes. Crews attempted to fill the void with sand collected from the road Tuesday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A public access point off East Beach Drive caved in from the storm surge, giving ocean water a path to reach hundreds of oceanfront homes. Crews attempted to fill the void with sand collected from the road Tuesday morning. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Trey Elmer uses a leaf blower to clear water out of a Jeep. After saltwater sputtered out of the exhaust pipe, the car ran. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Trey Elmer uses a leaf blower to clear water out of a Jeep. After saltwater sputtered out of the exhaust pipe, the car ran. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A group of young men hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck to cross East Pelican Drive, glancing at a submerged vehicle as they pass. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A group of young men hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck to cross East Pelican Drive, glancing at a submerged vehicle as they pass. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Kathy Ipapo looks to see if a large wood-framed couch was submerged in her pool after Hurricane Isaias. Her neighbors later found it in their backyard. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Miles of West Beach Drive was covered in sand after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Miles of West Beach Drive was covered in sand after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Debris landed in various spots along the west end of Oak Island after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Debris landed in various spots along the west end of Oak Island after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Debris landed in various spots along the west end of Oak Island after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Drivers stop to speak to one another on West Beach Drive in front of a severely damaged home. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Drivers stop to speak to one another on West Beach Drive in front of a severely damaged home. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Totaled scattered down West Beach Drive were submerged in Hurricane Isaias' storm surge late Monday and early Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Totaled scattered down West Beach Drive were submerged in Hurricane Isaias’ storm surge late Monday and early Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A totaled car sits in front of a rental home with all its windows left open to air out water damage caused by Hurricane Isaias' storm surge. The home's dryer was found across the street the next morning. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A totaled car sits in front of a rental home with all its windows left open to air out water damage caused by Hurricane Isaias’ storm surge. The home’s dryer was found across the street the next morning. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Miles of West Beach Drive was covered in sand after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Miles of West Beach Drive was covered in sand after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Submerged vehicles behind Publix attracted a steady stream of onlookers after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Submerged vehicles behind Publix attracted a steady stream of onlookers after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Kathy Ipapo was still in good spirits despite extensive damage to her Oak Island home. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Storm surge gutted dune sand and shifted it onto oceanfront roadways in Oak Island after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Storm surge gutted dune sand and shifted it onto oceanfront roadways in Oak Island after Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A fire near 55th Street claimed four cars and an oceanfront home Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A fire near 55th Street claimed four cars and an oceanfront home Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A fire near 55th Street claimed four cars and an oceanfront home Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
A fire near 55th Street claimed four cars and an oceanfront home Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Storm surge caused extensive water damage to any ground-floor living spaces near the oceanfront in Oak Island. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Storm surge caused extensive water damage to any ground-floor living spaces near the oceanfront in Oak Island. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Bulldozers scraped sand that a rushing storm surge shifted onto East Pelican Drive Tuesday morning following Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Bulldozers scraped sand that a rushing storm surge shifted onto East Pelican Drive Tuesday morning following Hurricane Isaias. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Mark Disher (left) and his wife Teri Disher (right) watch bulldozers move sand on East Beach Drive from the front porch of their rental. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Mark Disher (left) and his wife Teri Disher (right) watch bulldozers move sand on East Beach Drive from the front porch of their rental. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at johanna@localdailymedia.com

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