How Claremont Beach recovered after Hurricane Isabel: 'Everybody lost everything'

Posted at 7:12 AM, Sep 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-22 11:24:45-04

SURRY COUNTY, Va. -- In the 20 years since Hurricane Isabel destroyed the Claremont Beach community in Surry County, Virginia, the damage has been repaired and homes have been rebuilt, but the memories remain.

"Those that are here have stories that people wouldn’t even believe," said Claremont resident Paul Mauger, who has a home on the James River.

The eight to 10-foot storm surge Isabel created decimated the waterside utopia.

"Everybody lost everything," Claremont Vice Mayor Sue Gilbert recalled. "When I went down there all the cottages were leveled. Boats were pushed up in the road. I said we’ll never get this place cleaned up."

Claremont Beach Hurricane Isabel 20 Years later

But they did.

The community, led by then-Mayor Dan Gerding, came together to get the job done.

"Dan, I have to give him credit, he did a job, and he protected everybody," Gilbert said.

Days after the storm, CBS 6 spoke with Gerding while he patrolled his wrecked community on his ATV, chasing off looters who arrived by boat.

Claremont Beach Hurricane Isabel 20 Years later

"These people have almost nothing left," Gerding said in the 2003 interview. "And to think the few things that they have left that someone would take from them, that’s really terrible."

Gilbert also credited the federal government with helping Claremont clean up.

"FEMA came in here and when they left there was not one piece of paper on the ground," she said.

Claremont was not the only community hit hard in that area. So was the thriving weekend getaway spot Sunken Meadow, just down the road.

Hurricane Isabel destroyed more than 100 small houses and mobile homes in that area.

Claremont Beach Hurricane Isabel 20 Years later

"I have seen scenes like this in Vietnam but there was a reason behind that, there was a war there, this looks like a war," Mercer Taylor said in a 2003 interview.

Twenty years later, while there are lots of land for sale at Sunken Meadow, there are few signs of life.

It is better in Claremont, where things have returned to normal with a few changes.

The government required the town to put in a sewer system and the homes must now be built on stilts.

"Since I’ve been here, it’s flooded several times, and they’ll say are you gonna move? And I go heck no," Mauger said. "There’s just nothing like living on the water."

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