top of page
  • Writer's pictureTopsail Times

Front Page: Remembering Hurricanes Bertha And Fran 1996

26 years ago in the summer of 1996, Topsail Island met the fury of visitors that went by the names of Bertha and Fran. Their cousins Bonnie (1998) and Floyd (1999) followed a few years later.

With a Hurricane season that was ramped and ready to go, Hurricane Bertha paid her visit 12 days after forming off the coast of Africa. Hitting the island as a Category 2 storm on July 12th, Bertha damaged area piers, including Barnacle Bills in Surf City and Ocean City Pier at North Topsail. While churning the seas, she removed a large span of New River Inlet Road in North Topsail Beach, making travel nearly impossible.

Upon her departure, 4 feet of sand covered Hwy 210 from Surf City to North Topsail. 40 homes in Surf City were destroyed and hundreds damaged. North Topsail Beach reported that 25% of the homes had roof damage and several homes were severely damaged. Topsail Beach had 50 homes severely damaged. Power was out for the entire island.

Emergency personnel informed those that decided to remain after being ordered to evacuate, that once conditions deteriorated, no emergency assistance could be provided. People were asked to sign release forms, providing contact information should anything happen to them.

While still trying to pick up the pieces and debris from Bertha, Hurricane Fran decided to pay Topsail a visit on September 5, 1996. With a temper worse than her sister, Fran covered the island in Category 3 winds as high as 120 mph. Numerous tornadoes were reported and many evident after the storm. Entire stretches of ocean front homes were swallowed up by the sea between Surf City and Topsail Beach. North Topsail was cut into 3 distinct sections as water raced across the newly repaired roadway and into the intercoastal. Boats were found 20 feet up in the trees and complete homes were seen floating down the intercoastal.

The National Guard set up water stations including portable showers at the Surf City Town Hall (then located on the island). Curfews remained in place for days while property owners did what they could to secure their properties. Busted water lines formed mini fountains and large sections of pilings, most from the piers, covered the beaches. Giant chunks of concrete were uncovered by the storm in Surf City on the beach. Most, if not all, of the beach walkovers were lost to storm surge and floating debris. Septic tanks floated above ground in Topsail Beach. Nails and sharp debris filled the sand for months.

Hurricane Bertha did $335 million worth of damage while Fran did $5 billion worth.

The two hurricanes were responsible for 38 deaths.

What you should know if a Hurricane Watch and Warning is issued in your area:

  1. Do not worry about the Category. Every hurricane can be devastating.

  2. Get 2 weeks worth of prescriptions, food and water for each family member and pets. It is possible that if you evacuate you may not be returning right away.

  3. Take valuables, photos, firearms, jewelry and cash with you. If power is out then so are credit card machines.

  4. Fill up all vehicles with fuel and if you have a generator, make sure it is in good working order and has the fuel needed for 2 weeks.

  5. Secure windows with wood or any material that will prevent the window from breaking and will keep intruders out.

  6. Cover door knobs with plastic bags and secure them with rubber bands. Sand blowing at 90 mph will fill up your keyhole.

  7. Get as much off the floor as possible in case of flooding. Secure all outdoor items like furniture and trash cans. Flying debris does a huge amount of damage during a storm.

  8. Write down phone numbers and addresses and give each member of your family a copy. Have a plan to meet somewhere if you become separated.

  9. Empty your freezer and refrigerator of easily spoiled foods or take them with you in coolers. Do NOT fill up the trash can by your house the day before the storm and then leave. Fill up your clothes washer with ice as a backup cooler.

  10. Make sure you have plenty of clean and dry socks, underwear, towels, pillows and blankets. Bathing suits come in very handy. Sleeping bags are a great option.

  11. Make sure you have emergency food and bug spray and a good first aid kit. Beef jerky helps replace salt and is easy to carry.

  12. Check on your neighbors. Not everyone has a way out of harm's way. Get updated phone numbers and email addresses to share information.

  13. Get a pass if you need one to return to your home or business.

  14. Unplug sensitive electronics that can be damaged by power surges (TVs, Game systems, computers). Take a video of your home and contents and email it to yourself for your insurance.

  15. Remember that everyone is stressed. Be kind to each other.


Part of Issue 20:


bottom of page