The full thrust of Hurricane Florence was still pummeling North Carolina’s coast and southeastern counties this afternoon. But the National Weather Service was issuing tornado warnings even for communities near Wake County.
That was just what Howard Kinton Oliver had expected.
On Thursday, as Florence was heading toward North Carolina, his call from Topeka, Kansas was forwarded to my cell phone. He had been reading up not only on news of the current storm, but also our Coastwatch stories about Hurricane Hazel in October 1954.
He was eager to ask if anyone may have memories of Hazel’s destruction, not just near the coast, but also into the other parts of the state. Thus, if you recall that storm or have old news clippings in your family archives, please post them on our social media feeds or send them to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oliver also shared clear memories of a tornado that spun out of Hazel’s winds and hit Granville County. “I don’t think I will ever forget.”
It was the fall of his senior year at Oak Hill High School. He was at home, but his sister was at school, as she had just finished a basketball game. In their farming community, people could tell when a bad storm was coming, so his sister and her friend went across the street to the teacher residence and alerted them.
In fact, the tornado arrived shortly after the alert. “It traveled far north,” Oliver recalls. “It took the second story off our school.”
The damage was severe. “I had to go to Stovall to finish out the semester,” he says. The Oak Hill students had classes in the afternoons, while Stovall students shifted all their classes to the mornings.
An even greater loss came the morning after the twister, when their principal suffered a heart attack and died.
Oliver recalls other damage in Granville County, including the loss of many trees on the property of an orphanage in Oxford. “But no children got hurt.”
He even took a few moments to compare the limited notice that the state and the nation had for Hazel’s extended impacts, versus the 24-hour news coverage of Florence. “We knew about the hurricane, but we didn’t think it would come that far,” he notes. When the storm conditions did pick up in Granville County, the family started listening to the radio as their limited communications option.
Oliver’s family moved to Oxford later that year. He graduated from high school there, then joined the U.S. Air Force. Military duties took him to the Arctic Circle, and to Kansas. “I married a girl from Kansas.”
He still has plenty of family in North Carolina — he was one of 11 boys and seven girls. And there even was a community known as Kinton Corners with some homes and a store.
Much has changed in North Carolina since Hurricane Hazel, but Oliver’s memories remain. Do yours?