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Carolina Shores residents picking up pieces after Hurricane Dorian-spawned tornado
CAROLINA SHORES — In the early morning hours Thursday, phones across Brunswick County began lighting up with tornado warnings. They came in rapid-fire, from Myrtle Beach and Leland, Oak Island and Southport as the outer bands of Hurricane Dorian reached the region.
The Hess family started hunkering down in their home on Slippery Rock Way in The Farm at Brunswick neighborhood near the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Robin Hess said the family got every alert except for the one that really mattered: a tornado warning in Carolina Shores.
“We were paying attention, but we didn’t get the one that was coming for us,” Robin Hess said. “Then we heard the freight train.”
What happened next lasted about 30 seconds. But as husband Brian Hess said, “It felt like an hour.”
In the screaming wind, Robin and Brian ran up the stairs toward their 12-year-old daughter. As Brian leaped up the steps, a two-by-four blasted through the wall from outside, missing his head by inches. On Monday, the wooden plank was still sticking out of the siding, shot through the home like an arrow.
“It was like an explosion,” Robin Hess said. “The house exploded.”
Miraculously, no one was hurt.
“We all walked out without a scratch, but we’re homeless,” Robin Hess said. “It’s been an experience, but we are not complaining. It could have been a lot worse.”
The National Weather Service’s Wilmington Office has confirmed 14 tornadoes touched down between northeastern South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina, but was still reviewing one area of northern Brunswick County. One of the confirmed sites is at The Farm, where several families are now faced with finding temporary — and possibly new permanent — housing.
As of Monday, the town of Carolina Shores was still working to determine how many homes in The Farm were damaged, Mayor Joyce Dunn said.
“I’ve been here 17 years and I’ve never seen a neighborhood hit like that,” Dunn said. “The beginning of the recovery has been absolutely remarkable out there. But they’ve got a long way to go.”
‘No place to go’
Of the 14 tornadoes that struck the region that Thursday, the one in Carolina Shores was the most powerful.
Steve Pfaff of the National Weather Service’s Wilmington office said the tornado, which started as a water spout, came ashore near Sunset Beach at 6:58 a.m. and stayed on the ground until 7:17 a.m., crossing through the neighborhood and over U.S. 17. Its winds clocked in at 120 mph.
The Farm is a 262-acre community filled with single-family homes and townhomes. According to the town of Carolina Shores, construction started on the first houses in 2004, and builder D.R. Horton eventually plans to have more than 800 units across the neighborhood.
Homes in the Hess’ part of the neighborhood were completed in 2017, and they purchased theirs that December.
Neighbor Charlene Esaw, also the original owner of her home, moved in that same month. Coming from Washington, D.C., she said she’s more used to shoveling snow than bracing for tropical storm-force winds.
“Most of us are from up North, so we’re not used to tornadoes and hurricanes,” Esaw said. “There are a lot of Yankees … a lot of us retire here.”
Esaw was in her home as the tornado ripped through the neighborhood. When she looked across the street and saw some of her neighbors’ houses roofs ripped open, she was scared to go outside and look up at hers. But the funnel cloud had leaped over her row, taking her screened porch and damaging her roof, but leaving her house inhabitable.
Two of her neighbors have since had their homes condemned, including one who spent last night at her house.
“She had no place to go,” Esaw said.
Waiting for info
Lucky for the Hess family, their son, Wayne Goode, lives in the area. Since the tornado hit, the two households have been crammed under his roof — four adults, three kids, three dogs, two cats, a bearded dragon, a Guinea pig and a fish.
While the Hess family noted that several people have stepped up to offer then temporary housing, including staff from The Farm itself, their situation is complicated by their large number of pets. The family said they have not been contacted by the American Red Cross. On Monday, they were still waiting for an insurance adjuster to evaluate the house, but a contractor advised them that it would likely be a total loss.
“He didn’t even see a point in drying it out,” Robin Hess said.
But friends are pitching in to help, including one letting their daughter stay with them so she can be near her private school in Myrtle Beach. Goode noted that after Hurricane Florence last year, he actually had to stay with his parents after his home was damaged. This year, they’ve switched roles.
“It’s kind of like a yearly event, unfortunately,” he said.
Goode, who himself works for RE/MAX At the Beach and often shows homes in The Farm neighborhood, credited the hurricane-resistant walls D.R. Horton used when building the neighborhood with preventing more damage.
He noted the only injury he had heard of in the neighborhood was a sprained wrist.
“That’s why you buy a house, is because it protects your family,” Goode said. “The most important things are what’s inside the house.”
Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at 910-343-2339 or Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com.