As ‘monster’ Florence approaches, some will continue to defy hurricane evacuation orders

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Beaches along North Carolina’s Outer Banks were eerily empty ahead of Hurricane Florence’s arrival.
USA TODAY

 

WILMINGTON, N.C. — Hurricane Florence is a “monster” bearing down for a direct hit on the coast. But not everyone is fleeing as the storm approaches.

Among those who are staying put despite evacuation orders to over 1 million people throughout the Carolinas and Virginia is Jon Wright, a retired firefighter from New York who lives here now. He plans to board up his windows, hunker down and ride out the Category 4 storm.

“I’m not going to panic. I was a firefighter for 42 years. I believe in preparation,” Wright said. “It is what it is. We live in a wonderful place but that’s the cost of living here.”

He said he already has wooden boards cut to the right sizes and said the task should only take him about 30 minutes. The 63-year-old said he lives “right smack in the middle” of Cape Fear River but is prepared with pre-cooked meals, water, a rain barrel and other essentials.

There have been dire warnings from local, state and federal officials about the ferociousness of Florenc. Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune warned that “No life is worth taking a risk.”

Florence is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 15 to 20 inches in some areas and possibly 30 inches in isolated locations along the storm’s track, hurricane officials say.

But plenty of people won’t evacuate.

“I’m not worried. I’m just hanging in there. What can I do? I think it would be more trouble to leave,” said Jeremy Tominack, 40, who along with his wife and children, were enjoying the waves at Wrightsville Beach Tuesday afternoon.

They planned to part ways by early Wednesday when his wife and children will go to stay with his mother-in-law while he remains in Wilmington to ride out the storm. He said he can be more helpful if he stays put while knowing his family is safely away from the coast.

“I’m going to get these children off to their mom-in-laws. I’m staying put and post-hurricane we’ll be looking to help some people,” Tominack said. “I’m going to check on my house and make sure everything is good there then break out the old chainsaw and go help some folks.”

Under partly sunny skies in North Myrtle Beach Tuesday morning, there was a mixed response to Gov. Henry McMaster’s evacuation order.

Some residents boarded up windows, packed their cars and prepared to leave Tuesday or Wednesday morning, saying they were anxious about the uncertain path of the storm.

Others, including some residents of Seabrook Plantation, said they planned to ride it out, All said they rode out Hurricane Matthew fine and the storm was passing far enough north.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned residents to heed the evacuation orders. “They’re risking their lives when they stay,” Cooper said, adding that first responders who are staying may not even be able to get to those on the Barrier Islands right away. “There may be no way for them to get to them for some time.”

Defiance of evacuation orders is nothing new. In January, 17 people were killed in flash flooding and mudslides in Southern California, some of whom didn’t heed voluntary evacuation orders. One woman whose parents were killed told the Chicago Tribune they decided against evacuating their “forever home.”

Six months later, the Carr Fire in northern California near Redding killed six people, with law enforcement authorities blaming one death on the failure to heed evacuation orders, CBS News reported.

By Tuesday afternoon, Wrightsville Beach appeared to be an ordinary day. Some families walked along the shore. Others were in the water surfing.

The hurricane’s impending landfall, however, was on their minds.

“If you’re not feeling 100 percent safe, you should go. If you have any doubts in your mind you should get out of here,” said Lewis Moisan, 35, of Wilmington, who spent the day surfing. He said he planned to come back to the water Wednesday to surf again before deciding whether he and his girlfriend will leave the city.

“I think a lot of people might just be staying for the excitement. That’s not the right reason,” he said. “I live up high in a high apartment and have a lot of supplies. We’re going to make the call, I’m just undecided. If we feel unsafe, if my girlfriend feels unsafe, then we’re out of here.”

David Fries, was one of several residents of Tillman Estates in North Myrtle Beach to say he was staying, though his wife and mother-in-law were leaving.

“I have a fortress of a home,” he said. “I feel very comfortable. I made it through hurricane Mathew very effectively.  I think being on the south side of the storm, we’ll be okay.”

He said a tornado came within 500 yards of his house during Matthew and took out 700 trees including a massive live oak near his house.

“So many of the trees that could have been uprooted have already been uprooted,” he said.

Redix, a southern outfitters store that has been around since 1969, had boards covering up windows to its Wrightsville Beach storefront. Workers were putting up their final boards Tuesday afternoon, with only the door remaining open. Staff there planned to be around for customers Wednesday morning, but will board up the door later in the day to close until the storm passes.

Their boards were decorated with spray-painted names and dates of hurricanes that has passed through the area since the 1990s. The new paint in red states “No Flo ’18” for Hurricane Florence.

They’ve used the same boards through the years, said store owner Gordon Reddicks.

“With the type of storm coming now, it’s probably one of the worst we’ve ever had. Of course, Fran was pretty bad also. When Fran came along I guess 20 years ago, outside we had water up to a foot and a half,” said Reddicks, who turned 74 Tuesday.

“We’re prepared for the worst. Fran, when it hit, it was six feet high on the beach. We’re 11 feet above sea level so we’re in a better position but still we’re prepared. We put boards up in front of the windows. It looks clean out here but there’s always flying debris.”

Reddicks said he plans to stay in town for Florence. “After this many, it doesn’t bother me. I’ll drink a few beers, relax, go to sleep, wake up, watch a little TV,” Reddicks said. “What are you going to do? This is part of it.”

 

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