Home washed completely off its foundation by Hurricane Isaias
Jonathan Petramala reports on the devastation on Aug. 4, left behind by Isaias, which made landfall at Oak Island, North Carolina, as a Category 1 hurricane.
As night fell over Oak Island, North Carolina, Hurricane Isaias descended. Although light was fleeting, the fury of the storm roared through the night, declaring its arrival.
The first sign of danger for Burt Lea during Isaias was when the waves started hitting his house -- something that didn't happen when Hurricane Floyd blew through in 1999 and when other notorious hurricanes from years past came close.
Water started seeping through the floorboards, signaling that it was time to seek higher ground. Lea, having just undergone open-heart surgery two weeks prior, waded through waist-deep-and-rising storm surge to move his ex-wife, daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter to the neighboring, stilted house that the Pendegrass family is renting.
"We had to fight debris, debris was hitting us ... it was as bad as you can imagine," Lea recounted to AccuWeather reporter Jonathan Petramala. They passed by a floating pickup truck on their way to safety along with the floating RV parked under the stilted house. Shawn Pendegrass had to carry his own mother out of the RV and into the home, receiving the Lea family as well at the top of the steps.
The home the Pendegrass family was renting sat on stilts -- still, the home rocked with the storm as the RV, floating in the floodwaters, hit the foundation. (AccuWeather/Jonathan Petramala)
"Trying to get them and the little girl Caroline over here, water was up to my shoulders having to swim them over here," Pendegrass said.
Most of his family safe at the stilted house, Lea returned to his home to rescue Puck, their hard-of-hearing, 13-year-old corgi. Minutes passed, the stilted home jolting each time the floating RV slammed into the foundation.
After an uncomfortable period of time, Shawn waded to the Lea house to find him. Around the front of the home, the surge and waves slammed against the structure, blocking any chance at entering through the front door. Wading around to the back where the house would block some of the force from the unrelenting waters, Pendegrass was able to break down the door and rescue the two from the flooding home.
The Lea and Pendegrass families rode out the storm in the stilted home, literally in the dark while chaos was raging around them. The wind howled, waves crashed and the house lurched with each hit to the foundation from the RV. The house was moving like a ship, Pendegrass said.
"I was pretty much ready to grab his boat because if the house went, I would have to load everybody on the boat," Pendegrass told Petramala, adding, "Yeah, that's how bad the house was moving."
Puck, the 13-year-old corgi belonging to the Lea family, survived the storm surge with his owners. (AccuWeather, Jonathan Petramala)
There was one glimpse of light through the dark of night around midnight -- a car and homes had somehow caught fire. The official cause of the fire was unknown, but, according to Petramala, neighbors later speculated that the blaze might have sparked from cars ramming into each other from the surge.
A photo posted on social media by the Horry County Fire Rescue showing multiple structures burning on Aug. 4. 2020, in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. Hurricane Isaias sparked five home fires in town, Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith told WECT-TV. (Twitter / Horry County Fire Rescue)
The full moon would have been the only natural light source through the storm, if visible at all through the clouds. However, it would also end up being a contributing factor to the strength of the storm surge as it pulled a lunar tide to shore, creating a higher-than-normal high tide.
On top of that, the winds raced perpendicular to the beach, bringing more and more water onto land and to the low point -- the opposite side of the island.
"It literally surges like a river," Petramala said, describing the storm surge he had reported in while reporting from the eye of Isaias the night before. "It just takes minutes for water to be trickling, to be waist-deep water. And so that's what people are dealing with. You're dealing with the force of a river."
The storm lashed over Oak Island for about an hour before the eye moved in, bringing a calm to the area. Still, the surge charged on through the night like "white water," as Petramala described it.
"We had an escape route," Petramala said. "I said, water is something you do not mess around with. You always need to have a way you can safely get out of the way of water because there's nothing that can stand in the way of water. You can hide from wind, you can protect yourself from wind, but there's nothing you can do, you're helpless in the face of water like that and it can happen within minutes, and that's exactly what the folks here on Oak Island experienced. And again, this was a Category 1 storm."
When dawn arrived, it cast a light on the destruction from the storm.
The front yard of the Lea family home after Hurricane Isaias hit Oak Island, North Carolina. (AccuWeather, Jonathan Petramala)
"This was a Category 1 storm, and look what these can do," Petramala told AccuWeather Chief Broadcast Meteorologist Bernie Rayno, during a live report Tuesday from Oak Island. He stepped back, allowing the camera to show the Lea's home torn asunder.
The one-story home sat hunched forward, the frame battered as it looked down upon the water that pooled in the very foundation it had been knocked from. A lobster-shaped inner tube floated in the muddied water.
The Lea family home in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaias. (AccuWeather, Jonathan Petramala)
The Lea family's neon green car, which the Lea family assumed was a contributing culprit to the damage, sat to the side. Prior to Isaias's arrival, it had been parked a few yards from the home, but Lea believes the storm surge picked up the car and hurled it into the house, knocking it from the foundation.
Incredibly, nobody had been injured, Lea told Petramala.
"We had someone looking out for the whole family," Lea said.
Oak Island had been one of the hardest-hit areas of Isaias, the storm surging across the entirety of the island.
There had been no evacuation ordered, and the residents had underestimated the power of the storm after past ones had left them relatively untouched.
A car was flung into a pool at Oak Island, North Carolina, amid Hurricane Isaias. (AccuWeather, Jonathan Petramala)
"I would have never have allowed my granddaughter [to stay] if I hadn't thought it was going to be fine," Lea said. "I was wrong."
Pendegrass told Petramala he had thought Isaias was going to be "a tropical rain."
Tourists had also ignored warnings, deciding to go out to have some fun before the storm hit, according to Petramala.
"People, again, it seems in times like this, no matter where we were, there was really no preparation," Petramala said. "From Florida all the way up here to North Carolina, and we followed this storm all the way up from Jupiter, Florida. There really wasn't the preparation that you would expect with a normal hurricane because they look at it and they hear tropical storm, they hear Category 1, this was a Category 1 storm. And look at what these can do. You can never, ever just assume it's going to be okay in these storms. You always have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
After briefly reaching Category 1 hurricane status as it stuck the Bahamas over the weekend, Isaias was downgraded to a tropical storm and struggled to reach hurricane status again, which it did late Monday night not long before making landfall. Storms like Isaias are one of the reasons AccuWeather introduced its RealImpact™ Scale for hurricanes.
A beachgoer navigates a sand and water-covered beachfront road following the effects of Hurricane Isaias in Oak Island, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
“This storm perfectly demonstrates why we developed the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes, as Isaias fluctuated between a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale and a tropical storm, which is unrated on the Saffir-Simpson scale," Marshall Moss, AccuWeather Vice President of Forecasting, said of the new method the company introduced in early 2019. "We maintained our rating as a 1 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ scale for Hurricanes while it fluctuated, as the impacts between a strong tropical storm and a Category 1 hurricane would be essentially the same."
By the middle of the night, Isaias had weakened again to tropical storm force as it chugged north up the I-95 corridor and left a trail of power outages and damage. Moss said the 1 rating for Isaias, even though it didn't rate on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, allowed for a "more complete and accurate communication of what people should expect" before the storm arrived.
Reporting by Jonathan Petramala.
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