After the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Dorian on September 6, 2019, at least fifty island homes, businesses, and rental cottages were demolished due to extensive storm damage. Dozens of others have been painstakingly re-wired, restored and remodeled. Many more are still in the process of being rebuilt, including dozens that have been elevated, or are scheduled for elevation.
Ocracoke has a long tradition of elevating and moving buildings. Among many others, my home, the Bragg-Howard house on Lawton Lane, has been moved once and elevated twice. The old Odd Fellows Lodge (the center section of the former Island Inn) has also been moved, as has a section of the Community Store and the former Coyote Den (the Gathering Place), to name just a few.
In the old days, houses were elevated slowly, typically 1 ½” at a time. Starting at one brick piling, the house was jacked up and a board placed in the new space. The worker then moved to the next piling with the same procedure. When all of the pilings had been raised 1 ½” the entire maneuver would be repeated over and over until the house was elevated to its new height. The entire process would take weeks, often months, of slow, meticulous work. A number of people living on the island today have raised houses using this primitive method.
To move a building, islanders of several generations ago would position it on wooden rollers and pull it to its new location with horses. Today most houses are elevated and/or moved by professionals using steel I-beams, 6” X 6” wooden cribbing, synchronized hydraulic jacks, and heavy-duty vehicles and trailers. A modest sized home can be raised in a day or two, although it may take more than a month to install new pilings and prepare them for lowering the building.
Amy Howard and David Tweedie’s house adjacent to the Village Craftsmen is in the process of being almost totally rebuilt. Last week Steve Bray of Bray’s House Movers in Camden, North Carolina, began the task of elevating the house. As I walked around the house, now about seven feet in the air, I noticed an interesting detail of the elevation process. The photo below shows Steve Bray and David Tweedie late in the afternoon assessing the day’s work.
The next photo shows the bank of gauges and levers on his truck that Steve uses to control the hydraulic jacks that lift the house in unison.
This is one of the six hydraulic jacks that lift the house:
Some of our readers, especially those with a curious or engineering interest, may find the following detail fascinating. If you look closely at the following photo you will notice that two 50’ long, 10” I-beams run the length of the house, several feet away from the house, and are positioned over the six jacks (three on each side) which rest on the cribbing. These are the beams that are raised by the jacks.
Interestingly, the nine 40’ beams that the house actually rests on are positioned UNDER the 50’ beams. When the movers first placed the beams in position I found this curious. Here is another photo:
Then I noticed the clamps:
Thirty-six “C” clamps securely hold the nine 40’ I-beams (on which the house rests) to the 50’ I-beam above them (two clamps on each end of the 40’ beams). The entire weight of the house is thus supported by the 36 clamps!
I asked Steve about this arrangement that I thought peculiar. He explained that with houses like this one that are low to the ground this procedure eliminates the necessity of excavating all around the building (and sometimes under the building) in order to position the 50’ beams and jacks lower so the 40’ beams could then rest ABOVE and on top of the longer beams, an arrangement that wouldn’t require clamps.
Steve assured me that the clamps would hold and support the house. Each clamp, he explained, is rated to support two tons without breaking. Thirty-six clamps gives a total rating of more than one million pounds!!
In addition, the 40’ long, 10” I-beams are strong enough to span the entire width of the house, thus allowing support only outside the perimeter of the house. This makes installing pilings much easier.
As I write it has been more than ten months since Hurricane Dorian. Recovery has been slow, but islanders, with the help of Steve Bray and his crew, are determined to rebuild and to create a stronger and even more resilient community.