SOUTHPORT — Southport fisherman Charlie Mac rode out Hurricane Isaias (and a tornado) from the cabin of his mid-size boat, Miss Judy, docked in the city’s yacht basin. He said he’s now learned his lesson — Monday was the second and last time he’ll sit through a hurricane from the water.
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“I will never do that again,” Mac said Tuesday afternoon. “It won’t happen a third time.”
The storm brought on at least a six-foot surge and caused about three feet of flooding to the ground-floor of businesses that hug the yacht basin, damaging restaurants already battered from Covid-19.
Cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and wine bottles were strewn around West Moore Street, freed the night before by coolers capsized in the surge.
Even worse than the flooding was the tornado, which tore through the basin and several streets inland just after 8 p.m. Monday with 105 mph winds, according to the National Weather Service.
It was in and out of Mac’s sight within five seconds. He heard the alert from his radio that a tornado had touched down in Bald Head Island and looked out toward the channel. “I could see the cloud coming. I could see the cloud in there,” he said. He turned to his fellow fisherman, Royce Potter of Potter’s Seafood, who was riding out the storm in the boat docked next to him, before heading into the cabin. “He said, yeah, run!” Mac said. “It was wild. By the time we got in there, it was already gone.”
After the tornado, Mac and Potter still had hours left to withstand a rising surge. With Mac’s 31-footer dwarfed by Potter’s boat, the two men relied on one large orange buoy to keep from banging into one another.
“We were colliding together. We had that ball out here keeping us from tearing our boats up all night. That’s like the million-dollar ball right now,” he said. Wood chips chunked off the poles by each vessel were scattered around their decks, proof of how high the water rose the night before.
“We’d go up and the waves would come and we’d go apart and then we’d slam together like that on either side of the pole. This big ol’ boat was banging into my lil’ ol’ boat.”
Though he’s survived a hurricane at sea before, this time, Mac said he’ll sit out future storms tucked safely somewhere further upstream. “Actually, I brought a 12-pack with me and I still had 11 this morning. That’s how bad it was,” Mac said. “I was scared. That was bad.”
Relieved both he and Miss Judy survived, Mac was down to one beer by Tuesday afternoon.
Hit by two storms at once
With three humidifiers running, Fishy Fishy Cafe assistant general manager Brittany Chirico surveyed damage at her family’s restaurant.
At the height of tourist season, restaurants across the state are limited to serving just 50% of their building capacity due to the coronavirus. Typically wrangling long wait lines, Chirico’s staff were clearing mud off the restaurant’s floors, where at least three feet of water had pooled from late Monday to early Tuesday.
“It is really, really bad. Way worse than Florence,” Chirico said. “I mean it’s just like unbelievable how bad it was.”
The railings, pier system, and extended outdoor seating area were nearly completely wiped out. While cleaning up, an employee tossed butter packets up onto the now-exposed balcony from the dislodged dock before sweeping the rest of the debris back into the harbor.
“When I first got here I was so overwhelmed. I got here at eight and I didn’t’ want to start. But then everyone just started showing up,” she said. Family members of staff and even employees not on shift were on-site to lend a hand to the extensive clean-up efforts. Chirico hopes the restaurant will be back open in a week, but admits that may be an optimistic estimate.
“It is so overwhelming. Everyone’s like, have you cried yet? I’m like, I have not even cried, I have not even fully processed yet,” she said.
Boats like dominos
Either the tornado or storm surge or both wrecked Southport Marina.
“It’s history,” Southport resident Eric Lappala said of the marina, while sweeping debris off the sidewalk in front of his home. Surge from the storm just missed his historic house, which has avoided indoor flooding for 194 years.
Lappala’s friend and longtime Southport resident told him Isaias more closely resembled Hurricane Hazel in 1954, a Category 4 storm that caused catastrophic damage across the coast.
Tuesday afternoon, authorities and staff members cut off access to the marina. But drone footage captured an unsettling scene, with expensive boats crushed onto one another like dominos.
Smoking a cigar and enjoying a margarita resting inside a coconut cupholder affixed to his bike, David Crumpler said he wasn’t especially worried about his four boats that were likely destroyed. “It is what it is — we can’t change it. You just have to roll with it,” he said.
Living a block behind the marina, Crumpler and his wife were outside talking to neighbors when the tornado roared through. Crumpler’s wife, Jennifer, said they watched as their trashbin took a lap above their house.
“She grabbed my arm and said, get your dumbass in the house!” Crumpler said. “You know me, I’m a typical dude, I’m like, ‘Oh shit, that is cool!’ It was like the ‘Wizard of Oz’.”
Check out more photos along the Southport Yacht Basin the day after Hurricane Isaias. Click an image to scroll through the gallery:
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