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They call it "Hurricane Alley" — the Cape Fear River Valley, where storms form in the Atlantic, get caught in the Gulf Stream and then hit land, bringing storm surge, wind and flood.

Wilmington locals say the storms have been recorded since the 1500s.

Known hurricanes occurred in 1586, 1587, and in 1769, destroying most of Brunswick Town.

In Wilmington, 1837, three hurricanes hit in one season, and then again in 1876, '79, '81, '82, '83, and 1889.

The "Big Storm of 1889" on Halloween, October 30-31 — before hurricanes were given human names — damaged much of Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington.

This year's Hurricane Florence is just one of dozens, although it remains one of the worst threats to the region in recent memory, largely due to expected catastrophic flooding.

"You know what, it's the price you pay to live in paradise," said local historian Chris Fonvielle.

But in living memory, it was Hurricane Hazel — the only category four storm to hit the North Carolina coast — that had the biggest impact, causing $1.25 billion worth of damage.

Nineteen people were killed, 15,000 homes and structures were destroyed and a further 39,000 were damaged.

Jimmy Sistrunk, 73 years old

Born and bred in Wilmington, Jimmy Sistrunk was just a boy at that time, but said he remembered it clearly.

"We went down there and looked at the ocean and you could lean against the wind and you wouldn't fall over, that's how powerful it was," he said.

"It was very scary because I was just a young boy."

Carolyn Seavy, 83 years old

For Carolyn Seavy, who was also raised in Wilmington, Hazel was also a vivid memory — but a positive one.

The family waited out the storm with a "hurricane party".

"I knew I was safe," she said.

"Every time one's coming, we all get together and party."

Virginia Rivenbark, 85 years old

Virginia Rivenbark has spent her whole life in Wilmington.

Like many long-term residents who live slightly inland, she is not evacuating, having weathered storms throughout her life.

"I've lost count," she told me, when I asked how many storms she had seen.

In the early days, she said, there was little warning "until the storm hit".

But she said other things had changed too.

"The warnings are better, but I don't think the people understand like we did. In our day we were what I call self -sufficient, we took whatever came — now they have no idea how to improvise or adapt, they're dependent on people taking care of them more."

Although residents who live close to the coast have left due to mandatory evacuation orders, many of those further inland are choosing to stay, especially the old-timers.

"We know the drill, we know what has to be done, locals tend to ride 'em out, as they say," Mr Fonvielle said.

"We look out for each other.

"The level of concern and compassion and even love that we all have for each other really is one of the great bright things that comes out of these storms."

Hurricane Florence has a projected storm surge of up to 13 feet (3.9 metres) and is expected to drop heavy rain across several states.

ABC