Residents Share Stories from the 2000 Blizzard
The Big One
The Pilot photographer Glenn M. Sides provides these photos from the January 2000 blizzard that dropped more than 20 inches of snow on Moore County.
The weather forecast in the Monday, Jan. 24, 2000, edition of The Pilot seemed fairly typical for winter in the Sandhills.
"Today, clouds breaking for some sunshine late. Tuesday, mainly sunny but breezy and chilly. Wednesday, chance of some rain or snow."
Temperatures were supposed to be in the high 30s, a little cooler than usual.
That morning, the Moore County school system operated on a two-hour delay, following a blast of winter weather that iced over county roads. As the day wore on, weather forecasts began to indicate more snow was coming - but nothing out of the ordinary.
But when Moore residents woke up the next morning and looked out the window, they were greeted by a sight perhaps never seen before in this area.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a "hurricane of snow" buried the area in 20-plus inches of snow, paralyzing the county for more than a week. Thousands went without power for days. Trees downed power lines and littered the roads.
The county's emergency response system was tested as it never had been.
The events of the those next few days would make "snow" a four-letter word around here. But while it tested the patience of Moore County residents, many will tell you the storm brought out the best in everybody.
Throughout the ordeal, Moore County residents, many unaccustomed to these unimaginable conditions, coped as best they could. Many good Samaritans emerged, helping some of the most vulnerable residents.
It was something most residents living here at the time will never forget. There has been snow since then, but nothing on that scale.
At The Pilot, a skeleton crew working under emergency conditions managed to produce an eight-page, black-and-white version of the Wednesday, Jan. 26, edition, consisting mostly of photographs. "THE BIG ONE!" screamed a huge headline on the front page.
The Friday paper had another big headline reading, "6,200 Homes Still Dark in Superstorm's Wake."
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Blizzard of 2000, The Pilot recently asked readers to share their stories. Here is a sampling from that unforgettable week.
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital had been without running water for nearly 48 hours.
Conditions were becoming unsanitary. As Stuart Voelpel, the hospital's vice president of operations, remembers, administrators began to have preliminary discussions about evacuating the facility.
"It was a very anxious time to think we had this building full of people, and we were beginning to run into life-saving sanitation issues," he says. "It was a mess."
Voelpel remembers walking to work through the snow Tuesday morning. The night before, as the storm ramped up, he wondered if they would have to cancel that morning's finance meeting. Now he wondered if they could keep the hospital running.
Initially, administrators thought that power would be the biggest issue facing the hospital. After power was lost, the facility ran on a generator.
"We incorrectly assumed that power would be the greatest challenge," Voelpel says. "You just don't assume that you're not going to have water."
Caring for the hospital's 300 patients was a challenge. Many of them were on oxygen. Additional residents came to the hospital for refuge.
And with the difficulties of getting staff to the facility, those who were already there stayed on for a 72-hour duration, working 12- to 14-hour shifts at a time. They slept on mattresses in the conference center.
Fortunately, the water came back on Wednesday evening, before an evacuation was necessary. Friday morning, the hospital was able to return to "limited" normal operations. It had been a difficult four days.
"There were a lot of happy people when the water started flowing," Voelpel recalls. "Our staff was just the greatest. People rise to the occasion in times like that."
Muriel Thonet, of Southern Pines, was admitted to the hospital for treatment Jan. 21. She remembers waking up Tuesday morning to the nearly two feet of snow.
She wrote in a note to The Pilot that doctors living close by came to work on skis and checked patients - their own, plus others. Nurses slept at the hospital and couldn't leave unless they had a replacement.
She recalls the water pressure dropping. Toilets were flushed once a day by staff using buckets. Lighting in the patient rooms was reduced to the emergency lights. It also became chilly.
"I remember wearing my sweater to bed," she wrote. "Meals were smaller and smaller. There were no food deliveries."
In the meantime, her husband was at home making do like everyone else. Thonet went home on Jan. 27, when her neighbor picked her up in his four-wheel-drive vehicle.
The snowstorm was equally memorable for Pete and Julie Wiley, the proud parents of a blizzard baby. Their first child, Emily, was born the day the storm hit. The Wileys stayed in the hospital for four extra days until power was restored at their home.
During that time, they received several visits from friends at the hospital - Drs. Roy Schneiderman, Jonathan Richman and David Furie, and nurses Connie Cochran and Liz Richman. Neighbors Jody and Kirsten Foyles walked to the hospital from Pinehurst No. 6 to meet Emily.
The Wileys moved to Colorado the next year, but Julie wrote that they remain close friends with their hospital visitors. As for Emily, she's celebrating her 10th birthday today with her parents and little brother, Andy.
"Born in two feet of snow, she is now skiing in two feet of snow!" Julie wrote.
When the snow started piling up that Monday night and Tuesday morning, David and Nancy Gray weren't too worried. After all, the plows would come soon and clean everything up. Right?
They had just moved to the area from New York the previous summer, right after the 1999 U.S. Open, and were renting a condominium at Linville Gardens while they were building their new home at Pinewild.
They were attracted by the promise of bearable summers and mild winters, with an inch of snow or less at a time. They began to question those claims after 17 straight days of 100-degree heat that summer and the blizzard unfolding before their eyes that January morning.
As the hours passed, it soon become obvious that there were no plows. That clamoring they heard all night? It was only a futile attempt to dig a police car out of snowbank. The car didn't move for three days.
Making matters worse, Nancy, a nurse, needed to go to work at the hospital. But because they had moved South, they didn't have a shovel.
David recalled looking out at the vast amount of damage - downed trees, power lines and impassible roads.
"Recent transplants cannot imagine the scope of damage to the area," he wrote in an e-mail.
A seasoned camper, David whipped out his stove to cook a hot breakfast. He figured the power would be back soon. He was wrong.
Eventually, the heat and water pressure dropped, so he used the stove and lanterns to heat the condo. He couldn't get it any warmer than 55 degrees. Worse still, he had only four small propane tanks.
As the days dragged on, the Grays became concerned about their downstairs neighbor, who was battling cancer. He had been receiving daily care from nurses at his home, and his family lived in Greensboro.
David went to check on him. After knocking on the door and hearing no response, he found the door was unlocked. He heard his neighbor call from the back of the condo, which was frigid - about 40 degrees. David found him covered under several blankets, trying to keep warm. He hadn't eaten for two days.
The neighbor told David that he had been in contact with his family and his nurses, but they were unable to come.
David and Nancy took soup and other food to him for two days, until the National Guard arrived and took him to the hospital. David writes that he never found out if his neighbor survived the ordeal.
He concludes, "The memories we have are the struggles to keep warm, the 'fun' of living without the daily conveniences we take for granted, and the awareness of our neighbor that might have ended differently without intervention.
"Pinehurst is a fabulous place to live in spite of the introduction it gave us when we first came. God has truly blessed us."
Helping Each Other
For Maureen Burke-Horansky and her husband, Frank, the timing of the blizzard couldn't have been worse.
Maureen's family was in town visiting from Pennsylvania, hoping to escape the cold North. They marveled that there was no snow on the ground in January.
Before they knew it, the storm knocked out their heat, phone and electricity.
Instead of sitting at home and being miserable, Maureen and Frank both hopped into their four-wheel-drive cars and mowed through the unplowed streets. After a few days, Maureen's family was able to leave and head back to the refuge of the North.
Frank and Maureen then decided to rescue their neighbors. They picked up 12 families and and made it all the way to Golden Corral for their first hot meal.
"You have never seen so many plates piled in a stack as that night," she wrote.
Frank also rescued a nurse - who had been working about three or four days straight - from the hospital. Her husband was unable to bring her home because he didn't have four-wheel-drive.
"I would do it all again in a heartbeat," Maureen writes. "Frank ... aah ... I'm not so sure."
Residents over in Pinehurst No. 6 were able to make the best out of a bad situation, too.
Sheila Van Dyke wrote that their neighbors, Herb and Shay Teese, were the hosts with the most that week - they had a gas-burning fireplace and a large Coleman heater in the kitchen and quickly became the hot spot in the neighborhood, literally.
"It isn't possible to dampen the spirit of friendly Pinehurst No. 6!" she wrote.
Couples from around the block dug themselves out of their homes and gathered at the Teese's, up to 16 people at a time.
Together, they warmed up, shared good fellowship and played games - for days. Van Dyke writes that they even enjoyed "elegant fine dining" complete with crystal, china and wine.
"The treasures of our fast-defrosting freezers were our fare," she wrote. "Some food even went into the snowbanks for preservation!"
On the last day, the Van Dykes returned the favor and had everyone over to their house for chili.
Despite all of the fun playing in the snow, the Van Dykes were among a group of 20 No. 6 residents who went on a Caribbean cruise the next winter.
When Scott Brewton, general manager of Pinehurst Resort, woke up on the morning of Jan. 25 and looked out the window, he did a double-take. Was he really seeing that much snow?
A weather report he watched before going to bed the night before said the Sandhills could expect about four inches of snow. He received a call from the Carolina Hotel about 1 in the morning that told him the resort had lost power. He planned on getting up early to go check on the few guests - about 30 or so - who were staying at the hotel at that normally slow time of year.
But now he couldn't even get out of his yard. He stuck a ruler into the snow. Eighteen inches.
"They were just a little bit off," he says, referring to the weather reports.
Brewton recalls shovelling a path to his gas grill to make some coffee. Later, a Pinehurst four-wheel-drive vehicle plucked him from his house and took him to the Carolina.
When he arrived at the hotel, it became obvious to him that the area wasn't prepared to deal with such an event. Many employees weren't able to get to work. The few employees who were on site quickly got to work to make life more bearable for the guests. Even though they were anxious to leave, Brewton credits them for being understanding.
"We were fortunate in that our occupancy was very low the night of the storm," he says.
It was a "bare-bones" operation. Gas in the kitchen allowed staff to cook by flashlight and feed guests on paper plates and plastic cups.
The only power in the enormous hotel was provided by a generator to the computers behind the front desk and the executive offices. Brewton says it gave people a place to "work and function."
There was no more water, so staff was forced to run back and forth from the swimming pool to refill toilets.
Brewton recalls getting phone calls from neighboring residents asking if they could stay at the hotel. He remembers telling them that the resort wasn't any better off than the rest of the community.
After overcoming the first 24 hours, Brewton says the resort began providing food - mainly nonperishable items - to Pinecrest High School, which became a shelter.
By the third day, crews began clearing Carolina Vista in front of the hotel. Power slowly began to return to the village. By day four, the stranded guests began leaving.
The Carolina stayed closed for about a week because of the ice. The golf courses took much longer to reopen, he says.
Brewton is proud of his team's efforts in the face of such a difficult situation.
"It was one for the memories," he says. "When you have a situation like that, everybody works together. Everybody rallied together and made it bearable."
Alice McBride says her son, Bert, was determined to pick up his wife, Gail, an employee at the hospital, before she was stranded in the storm.
Bert called his mom late Monday and asked her to accompany him on a treacherous journey from their hometown of Derby to Foxfire to meet Gail. Weather conditions were beginning to deteriorate beyond anything imaginable.
What followed was a hellacious 36-hour odyssey. Alice wrote that faith got her through the experience, which she detailed in a six-page manuscript to The Pilot.
It took Alice and Bert about an hour to make the trip from Derby to Foxfire, which is only seven miles. The snow was blinding, and visibility was almost nonexistent. As they slowly crawled along, they found a young man whose truck was stuck in a ditch. After much pulling with a chain, Bert realized he couldn't help him.
Meanwhile, Gail departed the hospital in her two-wheel-drive van. When she made it to Hoffman-West End Road, she found that she was stranded by a pine tree across the road. After a half hour wait, the West End Fire Department removed the tree, and Gail was able to meet up with Bert and Alice.
But another downed pine tree blocked the road there. They decided to walk to her brother's house, about a mile down the road, to get help. Alice stayed with Gail's van and waited. And waited. And waited.
Hours went by. She began to worry. She had left her cell phone at home and had no way to contact anyone. Tree limbs began to crash down all around the van.
"I prayed and prayed everything was OK," she writes.
Some time later, another stranded motorist stumbled upon the van and checked on Alice. She let him in the van to warm up. At that point, Bert returned, soaking wet and freezing. The fire department moved the tree out of the way for them, but the van only made it a short way before getting stuck for good.
Alice's two other children were now stuck in Derby and began to worry themselves.
Bert furiously shoveled for hours the next morning, attempting to free the van from the snow.
"Bert shoveled the snow until I got so worried about him having a heart attack," Alice wrote. "I told him just to get in the truck and rest. I sat there and prayed, 'Lord, please send us some help.'"
Alice's prayers were answered.
A young man named Norman Thomas found them and took them back to her brother's house. There they warmed up, ate, and slept for the first time in a day and a half.
The next day, after much more shoveling, Bert, Gail and Alice rescued Bert's truck from the snow and made it back home.
There they had a happy reunion with their family and rode out the storm together. They were without power for 81 hours.
Alice wrote that she considers her son Bert a hero for all of the hard work he did to rescue them. He apologized for dragging her along, but Alice insisted she has no regrets.
"I thank the Lord every day for getting us home safe and all the help we got from such good people," she wrote, "but I did a lot of crying when it finally hit me, and it hit me about as hard as a large snowball in the head."
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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