Serendipity weathers the storm

Serendipity--like a great lady—is standing regal and tall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, despite the assault on her for a grueling 35 hours by an infamous lady, Hurricane Irene, last weekend.

The house made famous in the movie “Nights in Rodanthe”  is owned by a Newton couple, Ben and Debbie Huss, who returned home late Monday night after spending four days in the house at the village of Rodanthe.

They reported early Tuesday that the large picturesque home on ocean-front sands literally feet from the Atlantic sustained only minor damage during the hurricane which he said locals on the Banks told him was the worst since a legendary one in the 1940s. The local couple acquired the iconic structure several years ago and rent it to vacationers and movie lovers through an Outer Banks-based realty firm.

“She shook and creaked and made cracking sounds,” during the prolonged storm, Ben Huss said,  but emerged intact despite high winds and the most damaging aspect of Irene’s assault: surges of water that wreaked more havoc on structures fronting Pamlico Sound than on those nearer the ocean. His house lost a few roof shingles and suffered a little water damage from seepage beneath some glass doors.

Huss, who called most of the village of Rodanthe “a trash pile” as a result of the devastation, said electric power and fresh water are unavailable on Ocracoke Island. He, his wife and the two workmen they took with them on their odyssey were spared the worst inconvenience because the house has a backup power generator.

He recounted that one of the strangest moments during the storm was when they heard their truck, parked outside the house, making noises as if a ghost were starting the motor. He theorized that the wind and rain were blowing sand with such force into the engine that it triggered the starting mechanism.

Huss had high praise for N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue for her emergency orders to help the residents. With the island’s main highway, N.C. 12, washed away in several places, the people at Rodanthe are cut off from the rest of the world, but the governor, he explained, immediately put a ferry into operation. On Monday, the four in the Huss group were on the out-going ferry trip that took them to Stumpy Point and on their way back to Newton. The ferry ride took two and a half hours.

The Husses expressed sorrow over the loss of another house near theirs which burned in a spectacular blaze during the height of the storm. It was the current home of the 84-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who built Serendipity in 1988. After that man sold the house now owned by the Newtonians, he built what Ben Huss said was an elegant $2-million residence with a winding staircase and luxury appointments. After they arrived on the island last week, the former owner invited them to his present home for a visit. A few days later they witnessed it destroyed by what Huss thinks was a blaze caused by an electrical short.

Serendipity became a nationally-beloved house after the movie that starred Richard Gere, which was filmed there by a major Hollywood production company. Huss said earlier that he “fell in love” with the house and bought it as a business investment, renting it out to movie fans from throughout the United States.