Covering Hurricane Florence: Flo Away! North Carolina Gears Up & Boards Up

September 13, 2018 - 7:39 am
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Editors note: Ryan is covering Hurricane Florence for 1010 WINS digital.  Look for his pictures and videos as he travels along the Carolina coast and inland communities. You’ll find his daily blogs right here as he shares his experience of covering the storm.

BY RYAN JONES

If Day 1 down in the Coastal Carolina was spent amongst people busy with tasks, decisions, and the crazed gathering of competing and ever-evolving information coming down from governors and weather folks, Day 2 was spent amongst a small sliver of America that, without a doubt, knew it was under seige. With Florence just about knocking at their door, that black mass charging across the Atlantic like an invading army with a beautiful name, the people I spent the day surrounded by in Wilmington knew what they were in for.

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Front Street is the main drag in downtown Wilmington, and when my father and I rolled up in the blinding white chariot that is the Toyota RAV4 it didn't look quite how I expected it to. I mean, I knew it wouldn't be packed to the gills with crazed locals and journalists alike, all reaching for the same sole loaf of bread left in the aisle at the grocery store, but I certainly expected a little chaos. Some brutal traffic maybe, people scrambling to flee the town and head east, north, anywhere but south, before it's too late. Or maybe just Anderson Cooper doing a live broadcast from the middle of the street, eyes cast to the ocean, searching for signs of harsh winds.

Something.

Instead, downtown Wilmington was borderline deserted. Driving in I noticed two things: one was that the streets were lined with storefronts completely swallowed up by the plywood that had been nailed over the windows, and the other was that this sleepy drag looked like a ghost town.

My dad and I popped out of the car, shaking off the two hour drive from Raleigh, and wandered through the streets looking for locals to talk to. We found people, but we didn't find large swaths of the coastal population gathering supplies and filling up cars. That part was over, for the most part; those were the folks we talked to by the boatload as they headed out of town on Tuesday. Wednesday we found who was left.

Some people were defiant, nonchalant, chuckling at me when I suggested they were making a big blunder by staying in a town that their own governor was screaming at them to flee. Kirk was one such guy. I bumped into him downtown, where he was covering up an ATM with plywood. He laughed at the idea that he should leave; while understanding why others would go, he had no intentions of fleeing his home. After our interview I wished him good luck, and he responded by asking how New Yorkers like me could dare to let Carnegie Deli go out of business.

Moments like this made me realize I was one of the more panicked people in town, and I don't even live here. I talked to other people, too, people who had been left behind by the people with whom they normally share Wilmington. Lexi, a teenage waitress at a popular restaurant in town, had put the plywood over its windows to good use: she painted "PRAY FOR WILMINGTON!!!" on one window, the names of local shelters on another, all in blood-red paint. On the third, a verse from Isaiah. She's riding out the storm with her family at home in Wilmington.

The encounter that stuck with me most from today, though, was with a very tall woman in her mid-twenties. We were walking back to the car when she called out.
"You with the news?"
"Yep."

She came over to us, visibly upset, tears in her eyes, pulling at her long hair. She told us she was new to this area, came from South Dakota, and had let herself get tricked into staying in Wilmington through the hurricane. She didn't want to be interviewed, not by any means, but she had a lot to say.
"Everybody around here says 'Oh, yeah, it's fine, everything's cool, and I listened, and now I'm STUCK!'" she spat, tears starting to flow. "No WAY it's gonna be fine! Now I'm stuck and I got NOWHERE to stay and I don't even have a damned life jacket, I can't even FLOAT!"

Her boyfriend came over, seemingly out of nowhere, and assured me she was fine. I pointed them to the sign with all the shelter locations, not sure of what else to do.
We went to Trask Middle School, which had been turned into a makeshift shelter. People are praying, sharing information with one another, and they're talking about all the other hurricanes they've lived through. 

This is who's left in Wilmington, and in all the areas threatened so severely by Hurricane Florence. People who don't have the money to leave, or even a place to stay, along with the people who refuse to run from a storm. At this point, though, it's not in anyone's hands anymore. People who stayed have stayed, and people who fled have fled. Stores are closed, boarded up, and the neighborhoods near the water are so empty you'd think a biblical storm had already blown through. 

The time to talk and make choices has come to a close.The only opinion that matters anymore is that of Hurricane Florence.