Southport maritime museum debuts 'Deadly Dozen' hurricane exhibit

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The museum’s new permanent exhibit charts the impacts of 12 influential storms from Hazel to Florence.

WILMINGTON – Hurricane season may be nearing its end, but the N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport believes it is never too early or late to be prepared.

On Saturday, the museum will officially debut its new exhibit, The Deadly Dozen, a permanent showcase of the 12 deadliest hurricanes to hit the Cape Fear region since 1954’s Hurricane Hazel.

The storms were selected by museum staff based on several factors including property damage, wind speed and flooding. The dozen are Hazel (1954), Connie (1955), Ione (1955), Donna (1960), Diane (1984), Hugo (1989), Bertha (1996), Fran (1996), Bonnie (1998), Floyd (1999), Isabel (2003) and Florence (2018).

Museum manager Lori Sanderlin said the intention behind the new exhibit is threefold.

“We hope that it encourages people to prepare, it shows them what we can come back from and it also teaches them the history of the Lower Cape Fear, especially the maritime history,” she said. “Nothing says maritime like a hurricane coming in.”

As guests enter, they will be greeted by what remains of the hurricane warning flag that flew in Southport during Hurricane Hazel’s savage 150 mph winds in 1954. Children can raise miniature hurricane flags on an indoor recreation of Southport’s long-standing weather tower that sits just outside the museum, as well as try their hand at sorting appropriate grocery items for a hurricane kit.

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“We want to be able to teach children and anyone coming into the region the best way to prepare,” she said, acknowledging they want to curb the notion that you should only get milk and bread.

Artifacts like streets signs twisted by Floyd’s winds and small hurricane flags ripped by Florence.

The most intensive hands-on feature of the exhibit is a touch-screen display that allows guests to select each of the 12 storms and see their path toward the region, the intensity of their winds and newspaper articles detailing their impact.

While most of the museum’s exhibits are built by their sister maritime museum in Beaufort, The Deadly Dozen was constructed entirely in house. Caitlin Diane did the necessary research for the text and signage, while a core of volunteers built the wood structures that now hold the displays.

They also built a rotating display box for a Carolina Hurricanes jersey ordered specifically for the exhibit that reads “Florence” with the number 18.

“It is our way of showing our resilience and can come back and conquer these hurricanes,” Sanderlin said. “If you live here, you know you have to be resilient.”

The N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at 910-343-2327 or