On October 15, 1954, a terrible storm makes for a terrible day for the entire country. One county in rural southeastern North Carolina takes the most direct hit, with lives and communities shattered under the storm clouds.

It is the afternoon before the full moon. The fish are going crazy — jumping, jumping, swirling, swirling — sensing a change in the earth, sensing a storm coming.

The people are fairly clueless. In Southport, a fishing village with oyster-shell streets, a teenage boy looks out into the Cape Fear River — a rough river on a good day, a symptom of hell on this day — and he can’t help himself. He must get to them, those crazy fish.

So he rows his 14-foot wooden skiff into the churning channel. The boy comes from a family of fishermen. He’s only 15, but he knows he’ll be one, too. Today is a dream day for him. Spots and bluefish and Spanish mackerel practically jump into the rocking boat. One by one, he hangs them on a string, and soon he runs out of room on the string, so he turns home. He rows toward town and looks to the north, and on the weather tower, two flags are raised and blowing, blowing. Hurricane warning.

But it’s just that, a warning. The future? What is that? Right now, he has a string full of fish. What else matters? Weather, to a boy, only counts when it’s happening. To say a storm is coming is like saying he’ll get old one day, and the teenage boy cares as much about those flags blowing, blowing, as he does warnings to not swim within an hour of eating. Besides, as of this day, October 14, 1954, Tookie Potter has never seen a hurricane.

Rain starts to fall as he ties up the skiff. He walks across the street to the front porch of his family home. His mom waits at the door. He holds up the string of fish, 10 feet long and smelling of success, and his mom yells at him. “There’s a hurricane coming. I’ve been worried sick.” (Story continues below.)