Track of the San Ciriaco Hurricane.

Human Impact

Rasmus Midgett sits on wreckage of the Priscilla. He single-handedly saved ten people from this ship during the hurricane.

NC Division of Archives and History; printed in The Great Hurricanes of North Carolina by John Hairr.

On the Outer Banks, San Ciriaco was especially hard on the fishing villages of Shackleford Banks, Diamond City, and Portsmouth. These communities had struggled under repeated hurricane strikes in the past, and San Ciriaco was the last straw. Their fertile gardens were now full of barren sand, and saltwater overwash had killed trees and contaminated drinking wells. Farm animals were drowned, and caskets and bodies were unearthed and scattered.

Some of the survivors in Diamond City and Shackleford Banks relocated to the mainland or down to Bogue Banks, but most decided to build a new community across the sound on Harkers Island. Those who could salvaged their remaining homes and floated them across the sound on barges to be rebuilt on new foundations in the new town.

Other island communities also felt the severe effects of San Ciriaco. An observer from the Weather Bureau reported that Hatteras Island was entirely covered in 3 to 10 feet of water during the storm, and people were forced to abandon their homes:

"Language is inadequate to express the conditions which prevailed [the day of the storm]. The howling wind, the rushing and roaring tide, and the awful sea which swept over the beach and thundered like a thousand pieces of artillery made a picture which was at once appalling and terrible and the like of which Dante’s Inferno could scarcely equal. The frightened people were grouped sometimes 40 to 50 in one house, and at times one house would have to be abandoned and they would all have to wade almost beyond their depth in order to reach another. All day this gale, tide, and sea continued with a fury and persistent energy that knew no abatement, and the strain on the minds of every one was something so frightful and dejecting that it cannot be expressed. In many houses families were huddled together in the upper portion, not knowing what minute the tide would rise so high that all dwellings would be swept away.

"At about 8 pm [after the water began to recede], a prayer of thankfulness went up from every soul on the island, and strong men, who had held up a brave heart against the terrible strain of the past 12 hours, broke down and wept like children upon their minds being relieved of the excessive tension to which it had been subjected all through the day. Cattle, sheep, hogs, and chickens were drowned by the hundreds before the very eyes of the owners, who were powerless to render any assistance on account of the rushing tide. The fright of these poor animals was terrible to see, and their cries of terror when being surrounded by the water were pitiful in the extreme" (S.L. Dosher, quoted in North Carolina’s Hurricane History).

For sailors and fishermen out at sea, San Ciriaco was no less terrifying. Several dramatic shipwrecks and rescues occurred during the storm. The most notable was that of the 643-ton cargo ship Priscilla, captained by Benjamin E. Springsteen and sailing from Baltimore to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. By late afternoon on August 16, strong winds had destroyed the ship’s riggings, leaving the ship adrift amid the storm. Around 9:00 pm the next day, the ship finally ran aground in the shoals, and Captain Springsteen’s wife, his son, and two crew members were washed overboard and drowned. The remaining sailors clung to the wreckage of their ship for another five hours before finally reaching the beach.

At 3:00 am, Surfman Rasums Midgett of the Gull Shoal Life-Saving Station began his routine patrol despite the raging storm. An hour and a half later, Midgett heard the cries of the Priscilla’s surviving crew. Without time to go back for help, Midgett coaxed seven men from the shipwreck, and physically carried three more to safety. For risking his own life to save these men, Midgett was later awarded a gold lifesaving medal of honor by the United States secretary of the treasury.

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