All along the North Carolina coast, individual homeowners and whole communities have increasingly realized the persistent threat to life and property posed by major storms and hurricanes. Weather forecasters began to realize that this region has come through several decades of relatively calm weather, and the future may bring damaging storms more frequently than seen in recent history.
As the automobile and highways began to reach out across America, once-remote areas became highly desirable places to live. North Carolina's Outer Banks, a thin line of barrier islands 25 miles or more from the mainland in places, began to be built up as never before. Historic Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers achieved the first powered flight, and Roanoke Island, where Sir Walter Raleigh once planted the first English colony in the New World, saw populations boom. Many structures were built before flood maps had been defined, or even thought of.
Then as major storms began to roll in, especially in the last decade, the growing population saw how vulnerable they were to the forces of both the ocean on one side and Pamlico and Albemarle sounds on the other.
People who lived in houses that flooded with every major storm began to live with dresser drawers piled on top of the dressers.
Mickey and Linda Daniels' home in Wanchese, on Roanoke Island, was flooded in the "Storm of the Century" in March 1993. Every year after that, the arrival of hurricane season would make Mickey acutely aware of the weather reports, especially when tropical storms began brewing far out in the Atlantic. "Every time I looked off that African coast, I started getting nervous," he recalls.
Not far away, Boyd and June Basnight discovered that the half mile between their Wanchese home and the harbor meant nothing to an ill wind and a storm-driven sea. Thirteen inches of floodwater surged through the house in 1993, damaging or destroying all in its path and leaving behind a lingering uncertainty. In the following years, an approaching storm would send the couple into a frantic scramble to raise furniture onto blocks and boxes.