Thursday, June 13, 2024

Stories from the storm: Residents reflect on their choices to stay or leave

Hurricane Florence left its mark on Wilmington and the region, and everyone has a story to tell.

When Hurricane Florence hit the Cape Fear region residents took to whatever pastime they could to make the days go by (Port City Daily/Courtesy Elizabeth Woodside)
When Hurricane Florence hit the Cape Fear region residents took to whatever pastime they could to make the days go by. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Elizabeth Woodside)

WILMINGTON — Should I stay or should I go? That was the question asked by the punk-rock band The Clash in 1982 and has lived on for decades, but the conundrum was a very real for residents of the Cape Fear region last week ahead of Hurricane Florence.

While the decision to leave was made for some residents who were under mandatory evacuations, residents in New Hanover County were given the option to leave – but it was only a voluntary evacuation.

Like most things in life, the two choices both presented unique consequences.

Those who decided to leave town would have to find lodging, fuel, food, and other unknown financial burdens. They would also not know the fate of their homes or be able to make emergency repairs to possible storm damage.

For the residents who decided to ride out the storm, either at their own home in the Wilmington area or a shelter, the consequences could prove deadly.

Each resident has a unique story to tell — here are a few from the Cape Fear region.

A sensory sensitivity nightmare

Wilmington resident Tasha Thomas faced a unique situation as a single parent with a son with sensory sensitivity issues. Thomas decided it was in her son’s best interest to evacuate to Atlanta where she was able to stay with family – an option she realizes not everyone was lucky enough to have.

“He’s (Thomas’ son) on the autism spectrum and although he seems neurotypical, he does have some issues that I thought it best we evacuate. He has issues even if lights flicker in a room, let alone go dark. Our experience during Matthew led to my decision to leave. I have found that a lot of autism parents made the same decision for the same reasons. We also lament that we can’t help with recovery but have a strong desire to do so,” Thomas said.

“I am grateful that I have close friends and family I can rely on. Many do not have this privilege and that was really the difference in my being able to stay or leave. I could not have afforded a hotel. I did have two cats that I had to leave in the care of my child’s father. I couldn’t take them with me. Having that support is also what afforded me the ability to leave,” she said.
Windows provided light, and entertainment for Elizabeth Woodside and her family during Hurricane Florence (Port City Daily/Courtesy Elizabeth Florence)
Windows provided light, and entertainment for Elizabeth Woodside and her family during Hurricane Florence (Port City Daily/Courtesy Elizabeth Florence)

A birthday celebration

Elizabeth Woodside and her family decided to stick it out in the Pine Valley area where they prepared for the storm and even celebrated a birthday.

“(I) Stayed in Pine Valley area, housing another family with pets. Preparation: Cleared yard of debris, stocked up on non-perishable food/water, froze gallons of water, frozen, refrigerated foods first. During: stayed home, (got) online as I could, recharged phone in car. One meal at Waffle House was a treat. Shared coffee with neighbors, checked in on those I could ride my bike to, invited neighbors for a hot shower when power was restored, grilled a cheesecake for my son’s 21st birthday! Dragged dog out for business in the rain, but he still wet every rug in the house,” Woodside said.

“After (the storm): praise God, (I took) pictures of friends houses so they know what their coming back to. Tore a chest muscle trimming trees in the road. Can’t move right arm or laugh without pain. Wish I could serve food at pods. Bless volunteers, first responders,” she said.

Making do with only $20 a day

For Bethany Alrosan, figuring out how to make things work with only $20 a day for food and three children proved a challenge — a challenge that she managed to overcome.

“We evacuated with three kids, 12, 9, and 4 months on very limited resources. The first four days we did (a) hotel, but as we ran out of money due to a glitch in receiving my paycheck, I had to get creative. I found an Airbnb that had enough room for my family and only charged us $25 a night. We’ve managed to survive on less than $20 a day for food and be entertained,” Alrosan said.

“Places offered us free admission such as the Catawba Science Center or we found free things to do. There’s been hurdles for sure. We wanted to come home early this week but made the decision to stay back and not get in the way of first responders. We are watching the rivers carefully and praying our chance to come home is this Saturday. All and all, evacuating was the best choice for our family and by the grace of strangers, we’ve survived it,” she said.

A recovery home providing more than treatment

Davis Prichard owns a recovery home in Wilmington for those struggling with addiction. When Hurricane Florence threatened the region, Prichard had choices to make.

“I own a recovery house here in Wilmington for women struggling with addiction. I had to get my clients’, where I’m a therapist, ER plans straight then make sure the girls got home safely to their families. Those with no families came to my house in Rocky Point. My husband thankfully was allowed to come home from work or we would have not made it. My in-laws came from Shallotte, two women came, one in (treatment) program and one from (recovery) house,” Prichard said. 

“I spent about $400 just to get food for the house as I stay at recovery house to monitor the residents. We had six adults, two cats and two dogs, no power and are still waiting on that. The amount of stress and anxiety kept me up for the entire time. Every time I fell asleep some radar went off and woke me up for five days. Then we took my in-laws home caravan four cars last night was the first time since the mess started I got more than two hours sleep. I’m beyond grateful that all I suffered was some financial strain. I know my house is okay in Rocky Point but have no way to get there. There are a lot of people who were not that lucky,” Pritchard said. 

An unwelcome return

It was not a warm return for lots of Wilmington residents who evacuated ahead of Hurricane Florence (Port City Daily/File)
It was not a warm return for lots of Wilmington residents who evacuated ahead of Hurricane Florence. (Port City Daily/File)

For Ginger Beese, the choice to evacuate was not one she would do again: not only was it costly, residents on social media who chose to stay behind have been less than welcoming for residents anxious to return.

“Evacuating was a horrible experience. Eight adults, seven kids, four dogs, three cats — all together. (We were) charged ridiculous amounts for rental. And terrible attitudes from those who stayed telling us to stay out. We have been made to feel unwelcome returning to our home. I wish it was just out of concern but it wasn’t. (I’m) Ready to give my PayPal account out so they can contribute since apparently, they think we have unlimited resources. When you’re resources run out … What are we to do? It will take a bulldozer to get me to leave next time,” she said.

“Don’t get me wrong though there were a lot of beautiful, wonderful, loving and kind people speaking out too….. it’s just so hard to understand those that weren’t,” Beese concluded.

Beese was not alone in her sentiment — scrolling through social media posts one does not have to search long before finding residents who stayed behind chastising those trying to return.

Not knowing is the hardest part

Hackers get more sophisticated all the time and, according to a UNCW cybersecurity expert, that means you're going to finally need to start coming up with some better passwords. (Port City Daily photo | File)
UNCW issued a mandatory evacuation for students, but have not given out much information as to the status of their housing or the campus (Port City Daily/File)

For Anna Carey, a UNCW student, the evacuation was not voluntary — but not knowing the status of the campus left her with questions that are still unanswered.

“I left Monday on the 10th after a mandatory evacuation order was issued for UNCW students. I had no choice except to leave. If you hadn’t left by 5 p.m. on Tuesday the 11th they were literally going to put you on a bus and ship you out of Wilmington. Campus completely shut down after 5 p.m.,” she said.

“I haven’t returned yet because I live on campus. On campus is scheduled to open on the 29th. I’ve been told by campus officials that my residence area had sustained some damage but they weren’t able to access individual apartments yet. The most frustrating thing for me has been the not knowing. UNCW wouldn’t let news crews film on campus and wasn’t answering reporters. I just kept getting emails saying campus was closed until further notice and the damage couldn’t be fully assessed yet. I still have no idea if I have water damage in my apartment or to personal items because campus is still closed and they don’t have the time to give out info about individual rooms/apartments,” Carey said.

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