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Few Stay Behind To Watch Hurricane

August 26, 1998

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) _ Chris Wiggins and his Siberian husky, Sam, sat in their white pickup truck Wednesday as the seawater lapped against the front wheels and pieces of driftwood knocked against the door.

Wiggins wanted one last look at his boat, the Hammerhead, before retreating inland from Hurricane Bonnie.

``I’ve seen three go by so far, just out of control. Gone, just floating,″ the Wrightsville Beach man said, wondering if his boat would suffer the same fate. ``It’s covered. It’s insured. What happens, happens.″

Wiggins was one of the few souls who ventured onto the streets of Wilmington just before Bonnie smashed into the North Carolina coast with its 115 mph winds. By midday, Bonnie had begun peeling away.

A downed power line along U.S. 17 burned the soaking grass with blue and orange flames. The sign from the Pure Gold gentlemen’s club, just off Interstate 40, had blown out of its frame, and the parts of Bradley Creek Marina that weren’t underwater had washed away.

The few cars out on the road didn’t bother to stop for the red lights, not that many were even working. The wind blew water in zigzag patterns down the slowly flooding roads.

Across from the blocked drawbridge to fragile Wrightsville Beach, Jay Lowe videotaped through the open window of his rented red Chevy Cavalier, oblivious to the saltwater creeping up from the other side. Lowe is a State Farm Insurance agent from Irving, Texas, but he wasn’t there to drum up business.

``Back home, I’m known as the hurricane man,″ said Lowe, who flew into Newport News, Va., just before midnight Tuesday and drove down to the find the storm’s eye. ``I go to speak to the kids in school about hurricanes, and they’re always wanting video.″

Lowe has chased eight hurricanes, and he always tries to call his wife when he’s in the eye. He’s been in Wilmington so many times he’s even staked out a favorite phone booth.

``I was just here two years ago with Bertha,″ he said as the car rocked in the wind. ``Forty days later, I’m down here with Fran in the same phone booth, calling her. And now, here I am again. I just can’t believe this.

``It’s weird. Out of all the coastline we have in the United States, I keep ending up in Wilmington.″

Richard Wilson ended up in Wilmington, too, but not by choice.

The hospital food-service worker was among about 160 people who took shelter at the Noble Middle School outside Wilmington. Wilson had just returned to a newly remodeled waterfront house on Carolina Beach last week, only to find himself under a mandatory evacuation order within days.

The 51-year-old Vietnam veteran brought along his sense of humor.

``We asked at the front desk if we could register for Danielle, since she’s right behind,″ he said with a laugh. ``I survived Vietnam. I survived being married to a redhead. I’ll survive this.″

Astonishingly, Mark Attar of the Lucky Star Chinese Restaurant in Wilmington made 25 deliveries in the midst of the storm.

``Crazy, huh?″ said Attar, as he ran a $25 sesame chicken order up to the sixth floor of the Comfort Inn along Interstate 40, where the elevator wasn’t working because there was no power. ``It’s kind of fun and crazy.″

He received an $8 tip for the delivery.

As he tried to leave the building, hungry guests besieged him with orders. He shouted ``No, no more deliveries today! It’s too dangerous!″

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