About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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At O’Neals Drug Store, Irene was the worst

Janet Melton marks Irene's high-water mark at O'Neals Drug Store in Belhaven, N.C.

One of the support posts inside O’Neals Drug Store bears silent witness to the major storms that have struck Belhaven, N.C. Each time a hurricane or tropical storm blows through town and floods the store, employees mark the high-water spot on the post.

The ladder of destruction begins near the floor with Hurricane Ernesto in 2006. Bertha’s mark from 1996 is just above it, then comes the marks for Tropical Storm Dennis, Hurricane Bonnie, Hurricane Fran and Hurricane Floyd. The top spot on the post, four feet from the floor, belongs to Hurricane Irene.

“Irene set the record,” said Janet Melton, bookkeeper for the drug store.

In the coastal towns of central North Carolina, residents remember Saturday, Aug. 27, when Hurricane Irene came through. The storm, a Category 1 hurricane, met land at Cape Lookout, then pushed north up the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound, past towns like Beaufort, Oriental, Washington and Belhaven.

The storm stayed but a day, but the damage it left behind is still apparent: twisted docks, ancient oaks on their sides, blue tarps covering roofs and a sailboat pushed to shore. Power is still out in places, and everywhere are curbside piles of tree limbs awaiting municipal pickup.

“If Irene was a Category 1, we don’t want to see a Category 3,” said one of the pharmacy clerks at O’Neals.

Employees there know the drill when a hurricane approaches. This time they moved all the stock from the bottom two shelves to storage upstairs. But Irene blew away part of the roof, and the rain ruined the items that had been moved. Downstairs, water reached the third level of shelves, higher than ever before.

O'Neals opened three days after Irene hit Belhaven, N.C.

O’Neals has been in downtown Belhaven on the Pungo River since 1932. The store has been owned by three generations of the O’Neal  family, and its patrons depend on it for their prescriptions. So the owner got a power-wash company there by Monday to remove the carpet and clean away the mud. The store reopened  on Tuesday. Yesterday, the carpet still hadn’t been replaced, but there was new stock on the shelves, and the pharmacy counter was busy.

Elsewhere in town, however, Irene’s effects appear more permanent, as if residents have decided that the seventh storm marked on O’Neals’ post would be their last. Across the street, all the washing machines at the Wash House were ruined, and the owner says he won’t reopen the coin-operated laundry. The owner of the florist down the street has said the same thing.

Said Melton, “It’s slowly killing downtown.”



Belhaven, N.C.


(I was not able to find an Internet connection yesterday, so there was no posting. The first post from my trip with Dr. David Scott aboard Traveller can be found here. It contains links to earlier stories about him and the trip.)





Hurricane Irene pushed several boats ashore, including this sailboat, at Dowry Creek Marina on the Pungo River.