Hurricane Florence Refugees

I’ll just jump right into it.

Hurricane Florence was predicted to hit somewhere on the coast of the Carolinas, possibly between Myrtle Beach and the Outer Banks as a Category 4. A Category 4 hadn’t landed in our area since Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and it was a historically bad one. Everything looked like the eye was lining up right at Wilmington. (Well, Wrightsville Beach, technically, since that’s the coastal edge of New Hanover County, which includes Wilmington, and Wilmington is the main city in the area, so let’s just say Wilmington.)

It was predicted to be a particularly bad storm because it was moving very slowly, which would give it time to suck up a bunch of water and dump it for days wherever it landed, on top of constant hurricane-force winds for however long it lingered.

Tristen was iffy on whether or not we should leave. She had never left for a hurricane before and wanted time to think it over because the rest of her family was staying, including Torrie, who was due to have our next nephew in two weeks, but could come early, of course. I decided that it would not be a good idea to have seven-month-old twin boys in a Cat 4, especially since a lot of flooding and prolonged power outage was predicted. Tristen was going back and forth on it, but I had made up my mind and told her that I would take the boys if I had to. On Tuesday evening, the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, she said she wanted to see how things were progressing and think about it until the next day, but she decided to go ahead and start packing stuff just in case. We ended up leaving that night after setting up our internet-enabled baby camera in a front window then making a stop at Torrie and Johnny’s and then her parents’ house before getting out of Dodge.

Part of the hesitation was where to go. We had invitations to ride out the storm at my parents’ house in Rougemont (northern Durham) or my sister’s house in Gastonia (just west of Charlotte). Gastonia is about an hour and a half longer a drive and has more low-lying roads that we figured were more susceptible to flooding. Rougemont is closer, but Flo was expected to go in that direction and drop some wind and heavy rain on everything between Wilmington and Durham. My parents live on a hill, so we weren’t worried about flooding, but we figured power might go out and it might be hard to get back to I-40.

Tristen came up with the brilliant idea of going to my parents’ house first then, since Florence was still a ways out, we could see how things were going and head to Gastonia from there if it looked like it might be bad. We got to my parents’ house a little after midnight. Fawkes and Phoenix slept off and on, but they were quiet until towards the very end of the trip. Amanda had picked up Milly (school had been canceled so people could prep for the storm, so Milly had stayed with us Monday night) and they headed off to stay with Ben and Jessica in Winston-Salem.

We saw Craig and Johnny go by our house to cover the window on the baby camera on Wednesday. We even talked to them through it a bit, which surprised Johnny at first. The camera lasted until the power went out a little after midnight Thursday.

A guy on the Duke board I frequent lives in Morehead City, where one of Florence’s outer bands started first bombarding the coast. He posted about it as it was going on, and it sounded terrifying, the wind and the immediate flooding. 

 It was very hard to concentrate on getting any work doneas I was glued to coverage of the oncoming storm (particularly a webcam out in the Atlantic Ocean) and the damage it was already doing. The thing is, by that time it had already been downgraded to a Cat 2 and by the time she slammed into Wrightsville Beach the next morning, it was a measly Cat 1.

That, however, was misleading. Category 1 hurricanes are just big storms, and I’ve been through some 1’s and 2’s just fine. As this one slowed down, though, it actually got bigger, so it affected a much larger area. On top of that, as mentioned before, it moved very slowly. It ended up dumping rain on southeastern North Carolina for days. Aside from flooding, that made the ground very soft, which wasn’t a good combination with the sustained high winds.

So Florence slammed right into Wilmington. There was footage of flooding and trees down. Tristen discovered you could look on a map on Snapchat to see videos by where they were posted and found that a guy who lived two houses down from us had captured and even commented on our yard from down the street. What we learned from that was pretty big news to us, but it could have been much worse.

Our house has (had) two big pine trees and two dogwoods in the front yard. One pine had been broken at the top, but another came down completely. Fortunately, it went across the road instead of into our living room. I think it took one of the dogwoods down with it. I called around and got the number of our neighbor on the other side of that, Olivia. She sent us a video she had taken of the yard, and it was a total mess. She also had a pine tree down in her front yard, but even scarier was that one had fallen in the backyard and went through the roof of her roommate, Vaughn, while he was sleeping. They were both okay, fortunately.

The days kind of blur after that, so I’m just going to throw out things that happened.

Torrie, Johnny, and Sebastian had gone to Laura and Craig’s house. They had a generator and supplies, but the generator was not infinite so they couldn’t run it all the time and I could tell one time while talking to Laura that she was over it. Fortunately, they had a friend who had left, but whose house had power, so Laura, Torrie, and Sebastian went over there to stay for a good bit. The guys stayed to watch after the dogs and chickens.

They had a lot of trees down. One of them ripped the power line that connected to the house out of the house, but they got that fixed already.

Johnny tried to get over to our neighborhood while things were at a lull, but couldn’t find a working path. A cop finally stopped him and when Johnny told him where he was trying to go, the cop told him to go back; there was no getting to that neighborhood right then.

Footage we saw on the news and on social media (Snapchat was really great for it) showed a lot of devastation. The GoGas by my old house was really messed up (as was another GoGas- maybe they should look into that). Trees were down everywhere, including a lot of the beautiful old oaks lining Market Street heading towards historic downtown Wilmington.

[Note: The rest of this is being written a few weeks after the fact, so I’m going to try to breeze through it.]

So Wilmington was a wreck. Lots of flooding, lots of trees down. Other areas had it even worse. There was talk of the Cape Fear River flooding even more than it had (it was covering the aptly-named Water Street) in a few days and evacuating part of downtown. Lots of people ended up having flooding and needing to gut their houses.

Throughout the week I set up my laptop and was working in one of the bedrooms upstairs, the one with bunk beds. Tristen watched the boys a good bit, but she started feeling very tired and sick. She’s not one for taking naps, but she took a good number of naps.

We went to see Erin in her new place near downtown Durham. It’s an area going through some gentrification and the house had some really nice renovations. 

Another evening we went to deliver some gas cans to our friend Drew, who was heading back to Wilmington and was going to take some gas to Tristen’s family for their generator. We took the opportunity to grab a dinner together while we were out. It was some place in Chapel Hill that was similar to Nikki’s here, but it wasn’t as good.

Speaking of them, they did alright. Laura has a friend who had evacuated town, but whose house was undamaged and still had power, so she, Torrie, and Sebastian spent a lot of time over there. Sebastian had been mad at Florence for taking away the internet so he couldn’t do as much on his tablet.

My parents were great the whole time we were there with them. They had bought a ton of food in case Rougemont got hit as bad is it did Fran back in 1996. They were without power for quite some time. Anyway, they enjoyed having the boys around and seemed genuinely sad to see us head back home, which we did on the 20th.

There was some debate on which route to take back to Wilmington. Part of I-40 was flooded as were several other routes to Wilmington. At times it literally became an island. Fortunately for us, we had a few people who made it back already before we left, so despite all the unknown swirling around about what was open when, we had a pretty good idea of what route we could take.

We left in the evening in hopes that the boys would sleep most of the way and that we’d avoid most of the traffic from returning evacuees, and we did. We went to the last available exit on 40 before it was blocked off, which took us through Beulaville and Richlands then down 17. It was dark when we got back and we didn’t go through town a lot, but we saw a number of downed trees and branches.

The neighborhood was still out of power. We used the lights on our phones and a video camera light I’ve got to look around. Our backyard was almost totally covered with branches. Tristen’s car, which we’d moved to a more secure parking spot in our neighbor’s carport across the street, was totally blocked in. While our house seemed to be fine, we saw that there was some water damage in our dining room ceiling, which means that our roof was compromised somewhere.

We opened all the windows in the house to get a breeze and slept in the living room, Tristen on the couch and I in recliner. The boys slept (though not well) in their room.

The next day we made to rounds to see her family and check out some of the damage in our area. It’s insane how many massive old trees were down. Our backyard looks completely different. There’s a space between our fence and a train track with a bunch of overgrowth in it, but there used to be some trees too. It just seems so much more open now.

We were worried about what to do with the giant pine that fell in our front yard. Crews had cut it off the road, but there was still a lot of trunk left in our yard, not to mention a huge hole where the rootball came up. The other pine had a large piece hanging off it about three-quarters of the way up, so we needed to get that down too. We wanted the whole tree down anyway, but we at least need that one part down. I’m just glad, of course, that neither fell in the other direction, as that would have very much smashed the house.

We decided that Tristen and the boys would spend Friday night at Tristen’s parents’ house since they had power back, though they didn’t have AC. I wanted to stay at our house so I could get up the next morning and start getting the yard in order with the chainsaw I borrowed from my dad. I got some happy news when I got back though- our power was back on!

Tristen and the boys got back before I got started in the yard the next morning, but I did get started. I had some help from one of my clients’ business partners. He came out with a truck, which made hauling all the mess in the backyard to the front much easier. Drew stopped by out of the blue and started chainsawing stuff in the front yard while Mike and I were still in the back.

The next day I went out to get a few supplies. I mainly wanted to get a tarp and heard that a FEMA station had some, but when I went by they were out so I went and bought one, along with some gloves and some roofing nails.

Sam and Berk came over later. Berkley was going out help me tarp the roof, and I asked Sam if she’d mind coming to help Tristen a bit. She was still feeling pretty drained and I was staying busy doing stuff outside, but she was too stubborn to ask for any help.

So they came over. They brought some life-changing news with them as well. Everybody is fine and no, they’re not pregnant. I’ll disclose it on here later.

Milly was out of school for 17 days, so kids have been out of school longer this school year than they’ve been in school. She stayed with Amanda’s parents for a bit then stayed here for most of the last week before going back to school. She finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so we watched that and she started the last book.

That’s our Florence story. We left, we came back. We had some trees down and some damage to our roof and carport, but it could have been much worse.