Visitor to remember

Published 8:44 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Suffolk and Hampton Roads have a rich and storied history. From early settlements through the Revolutionary and Civil wars to today, this area is a place where many stories have been told and about which many history books have been written.

But this area also has a dark and tragic history tied to Mother Nature and the destruction tied to hurricanes and other tropical systems.

None of those storms is more vivid in the minds of Suffolk residents than the most recent visitor, Hurricane Isabel in September 2003.

During a two-day barrage, Suffolk and surrounding areas were battered by hurricane-force winds, suffered downed trees and power lines and went without basic services for weeks.

The headline of the Suffolk News-Herald on Sept. 19, 2003 did the best to describe the storm’s impact and aftermath.

“What a mess,” the headline read in strong, bold letters. It was followed by smaller headlines carrying just as much impact.

“70 percent of Suffolk is without water; 90 percent without power”

“Local damages in tens of millions; city officials advise ‘be patient’”

“Isabel’s toll: 9 dead, 200-mile wide swath of destruction through Va.”

The storm, which first formed as a tropical depression on Sept. 6, grew into a horrifying Category 5 hurricane and reached peak winds of 165 miles per hour.

Over the next few days, Isabel would fluctuate between Categories 4 and 5 before making landfall on Sept. 18 as a Category 2 storm with winds hitting 105 miles per hour.

Isabel officially made landfall between Cape Lookout and Ocracoke Island, N.C., but due to the massive size of the storm, its effects were felt throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Suffolk officials opened up emergency shelters, and although there was fear, those who made their way to the shelters were calm and even optimistic.

Suffolk resident Evelyn Haskins, who was reportedly relaxing on a stack of pillows and an air mattress at the shelter set up in the gymnasium of Nansemond River High School, spent time waiting out Isabel reading a book.

“At least I am not washing dishes or sweeping floors,” Haskins told the Suffolk News-Herald at the time. “Of course, I’m worried about my house but I can’t do anything about it.

“I’m just going to pray it’s still standing. And, if it’s not, we just have to deal with it later.”

One Suffolk couple, who rode out the storm in their Truman Road home, were just glad to be alive following their ordeal with Isabel.

The Suffolk News-Herald reported Laura and James Edward Alston, who were sitting in the den of their home during the storm, were spending time reading the Bible and watching TV when a tree came crashing through the roof.

Laura told the newspaper that the two were sitting on opposite sides of the room when the tree fell across the front bedroom and into the den.

“The tree dropped and tilted toward me and then stopped as if a big hand kept it from coming any further,” Laura said. “I then went to reach for my husband and saw him coming from under a pile of ceiling that had fallen with the tree.”

At the height of the storm’s destruction, Dominion Power reported approximately 90 percent of their customers in the Chuckatuck district were without power. That report accounted for more than 94,000 homes throughout Suffolk, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.