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For storm voyeurs, Isabel was a show, not a disaster

SHARE For storm voyeurs, Isabel was a show, not a disaster

ATLANTIC BEACH, N.C. (AP) — Scott Randolph drove for hours to point his video camera in Isabel's eye and get an adrenaline rush from being in the middle of the storm.

He's lucky that Isabel blinked.

The High Point, N.C., man and his buddy, Jack Pierce, were aping for cameras out at the end of Triple S Pier in Atlantic Beach on Thursday when a 60 mph gust knocked them to the deck. The winds were swirling, and Randolph could feel himself skittering sideways across the rain-slickened boards toward the rail — and the ocean.

A second before he would have been swept into oblivion, Pierce reached out and wrapped his arm around Randolph's left thigh.

"That's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Randolph, 39, said shakily as he smoked a cigarette moments afterward. "And now that I've done it, that's all folks. I feel like I've been beat to death."

Randolph and Pierce were among a handful of storm voyeurs who ignored a mandatory evacuation order and put themselves in harm's way to catch a glimpse of Hurricane Isabel as it barreled into North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The pair arrived at the barrier island Tuesday at the urging of Pierce's younger brother, Scott.

Scott Pierce, 32, caught the bug at an early age. When he was 18, he decided to jump in the truck and head to Charleston to catch Hurricane Hugo.

Only problem was, he left his sleeping mother a note — and forgot his camera at home.

"I went back to get my camera and she caught me," the furniture maker from High Point said. "She'd already called the highway patrol to come after me."

Scott Pierce got his first real taste of high winds and surf in 1996, when he and his parents were caught in Atlantic Beach during Hurricane Bertha. They sat through 17 hours of hurricane-strength winds and lost power, but Pierce only fell deeper in love.

"I just love the adrenaline rush," he said Thursday, salt spray dripping from his nose. "I'm just amazed with the waves, their destruction. If I'm not here, I'm glued to TVs. I may have missed my calling."

For others at Triple S pier, this was their calling.

Warren Faidley, a storm chaser from Tuscon, Ariz., knelt in the surf with his camera as 10- to 15-foot waves crashed in front of him. He consulted on the movie "Twister," and wasn't overly impressed with this Category 2 storm.

"I've been in Andrew," he said, referring to the devastating Category 5 hurricane that ripped apart southern Miami-Dade County, Fla., more than a decade ago. "For me, this is like a little rainstorm. But you take what you can get."

Others, like Terence Fominaya of Gainesville, Fla., have a foot in both worlds.

Fominaya, 25, majored in meteorology at the University of Florida but works in Christian missions. He drove 10 hours to Louisiana last year for Hurricane Lilli, only to watch it peter out just offshore.

He was slightly less disappointed with his second storm, which had been a Category 5 giant with 160 mph gusts. So he is still waiting for that big one to come along.

"I guess this is a good way to get your feet wet," he said. "No pun intended."

Isabel was Jack Pierce's first storm, and it was plenty strong for the 38-year-old's liking.

The winds shredded his orange rain pants out on the pier, and he had to stuff cotton in his ears to keep out the spray, because he has no ear drums. But he and his two cohorts managed to play on the swings as bits of nearby buildings and signs peeled away.

He finally knows what his little brother, Scott, sees in these blows.

"It's awesome," he said with a grin as the storm's eye passed just miles northeast of him. "I'm hooked."

Allen G. Breed is the AP's Southeast regional writer, based in Raleigh.