Track of Hurricane Fran.

Human Impact

Rescue teams look for missing people among the wreckage at Topsail Beach.

Dave Gatley, FEMA News Photo.

Flood waters surround this NC house.

D.A. Harned, USGS.

The owners of this destroyed house declare that they will return.

NC Division of Marine Fisheries.

Fran killed 24 people in North Carolina. Half of these victims were killed by falling trees. In the Raleigh area alone, hundreds of trees fell, and many of them fell on houses, cars, and people. WRAL reported on one family that spent the storm in a parking garage because it was safer than staying in their mobile home. Indeed, Mary Bland Reaves, like many others, was killed when a falling tree crushed her mobile home. But some other Raleigh residents were more lucky. Thao Do, got up in the middle of the night only minutes before a heavy tree crashed through the roof and landed on the bed where she had been sleeping. Others, like Patti Clinton and brothers Evan and Eric Hamo experienced similar close calls.

In addition to falling trees, Fran also brought heavy rain to Raleigh. Many people had tried to escape Fran’s reach by evacuating to Raleigh, but once there, they were stranded by rising flood water. Crabtree Creek rose 16 feet, cresting at 7 feet above flood stage. Guests at the nearby Sheraton Hotel found themselves surrounded by 6 feet of water. A heart patient and a diabetic, both needing medical attention, were trapped in the hotel until Ray Williams and Lupton Pittman braved the waters and brought back wetsuits, emergency items, and a canoe.

Similar rescues were happening in other cities, too. Candido Suarez, a police detective in Jacksonville, used a Jet-ski to rescue 20 people from a flooded street. In Bladen County, a pregnant woman called just after midnight during the storm. Four different emergency crews cut their way through fallen trees for 53 minutes before they reached the expectant mother and took her to the hospital to deliver her baby. Both her and the baby were saved.

After the storm, thousands of homes were damaged, and millions of people were without power. Traffic lights were out, which caused many accidents. Most gas stations couldn’t pump gas, and the few that could spawned long lines. At one working gas station on Old Apex Road near Raleigh, nearly 1,000 people waited in line for an hour until the pumps ran out at noon. But the power outage had one positive side affect. Backyard barbeques popped up across the state as people hurried to cook their frozen foods before they spoiled. These neighborhood gatherings strengthened community bonds and helped survivors talk through their troubles with friends.

Clean up was difficult, however. Roads blocked by fallen trees prevented people from getting to work, and down power lines were dangerous for anybody nearby. Sightseers were another obstacle. People with video cameras drove around the beaches filming the destruction and getting in the way of cleanup crews. The authorities were even forced to create a no-fly zone over the beaches where sightseers were hiring helicopters to fly them over the destruction.

Slowly, things returned to normal. The lines at grocery stores and home improvement centers dwindled. The fallen tree trunks were cleared away, and the sound of chainsaws died down. Not since Hurricane Hazel in 1954 had a storm left such a mark as Fran did in 1996. But both storms would soon be eclipsed by an even more catastrophic disaster just three years later, Hurricane Floyd.

All dollar amounts have been adjusted for inflation as of 2009.