Guest Post: Escaping Hurricane Florence

Written by Nikki Harbeston, Creative Stuff, for LAA Pet Talk. 

Our family has been through many hurricanes and tropical storms from an inland standpoint. Then this past fall, for the first time, we faced an evacuation from a hurricane.

Living in Central North Carolina all of our lives, my husband and I were used to the wind and rain that hurricanes on our coast would bring inland, but we normally don’t have to run from winds or flooding. We rarely have to make choices about what we can take and then being left with just those possessions after a storm. Neither of us realized, until Hurricane Florence, how serious and deadly the whole ordeal could be. The thought that if we made a mistake, this hurricane could have killed us or our dog is awful. It gave us a new appreciation of those who’ve lived thru hurricanes and evacuations.

It’s still clicking in my head that storm surge evacuations can threaten our family! We live in Myrtle Beach, SC, in Zone C. The area of Myrtle Beach is divided into three zones: A, B, and C. The zones are associated with storm surge evacuations. We’re probably about 15 minutes from the ocean, but only a mile or so from the Intracoastal Waterway. We live in a third-floor apartment and so with a hurricane like Florence we could’ve been flooded.

My husband and I both had been keeping up with Florence, before she really became a threat to the Southeast coastline. Originally, the track had Florence curving to the sea, but we still watched. Florence was on a track that most storms took, in that it would likely brush the Outerbanks of North Carolina, but not actually make a direct hit on the Carolina Coast. Florence was the first storm to negate the track and become hellbent on hitting North or South Carolina.

When you hear for a week or more that a hurricane is “coming” your way, you grow fatigued with the news, and almost become complacent. The track changes so constantly that one minute you’re going to get hit, then the next it’s not. Forecast tracks more than 5 days out are full of flaws and the “cone” of where it could hit shifts, shifts, and shifts. It’s impossible to get accurate forecasts for hurricanes many days out. You know it’s out there, but you’re tired of hearing about, yet you can’t forget it.

The week before Florence made up her mind, our weather guy became more serious. There was now a chance for a direct hit from a CAT 4 or 5 hurricane. You’ve seen pictures from Katrina, Harvey, Maria, Hugo; that damage in our area was a real possibility. My husband and I began talking about our possible evacuation plan, going over our list of things to take, and then playing the waiting game again.

The waiting game ended on Monday, September 10th, when our governor ordered a mandatory evacuation off ALL THREE zones beginning on September 11th. We knew then that we’d be running for our lives. This hurricane was powerful and had the option to kill lots of people; we did not want to be in the body count.

When a mandatory evacuation is handed down, you’re supposed to immediately leave, but the question is where do you go? My husband and I were lucky that we could flee to a relative’s place, but not everyone has that option. Travel is expensive; so are hotels. Shelters are opened up in the area for people who want to stay or can’t leave, but being in a shelter could’ve still been disastrous given the power of Florence. Every person in all three zones had difficult decisions to make. You have to think of yourself, your family, animals, etc. Your life is hanging in the balance.

The day before the evacuation was to start, we spent time packing, going thru our list, double checking, and trying to breathe. We made decisions on what we would take and what would possibly get washed away into the ocean. Our possessions can be replaced, but not our lives, but it was still hard to make the decision to not take things.

From the beginning of this storm, our dog was priority number one! The first thing we packed were all of our dog’s toys, food, bedding, medicine, etc. If we had to go to a hotel or shelter, we’d find one that’s animal-friendly. In the past, a lot of people refused to go to shelters in the past because they weren’t pet friendly. Accommodations have become more pet-friendly, thankfully! In addition, some counties now have a hotline you can call to find a safe place to take your animals if you aren’t able to take them. It’s easier these days for all animals to be safe during a hurricane, instead of being left at home to possibly die as used to happen often in the past.

9/11/2018, 3:30 a.m.: We hit the road early to beat the evacuation traffic. We got up, walked the dog, showered, packed, turned off power to our place except for the fridge, locked the door, and left. We did NOT look back; We just wanted to get out of there. We arrived at my sister’s house later that morning and endured another waiting game. It was a long week! Florence finally made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, NC that Friday morning, dumping a ton of rain to all of Eastern NC.

Taking our dog, Eclipse, with us was fairly easy. She loves to ride! We have a pet bed and some blankets that she uses every day, and so those went into the back of our car. We made sure to stop for her to potty and exercise. The only challenge was on the way home. It was a much longer drive and became fussier, but otherwise she was fine.

On Sunday, September 16th, the evacuation order was lifted for our area, and so we headed home. It was an arduous experience! Keep in mind, Florence was still in SC as a depression, dumping copious amounts of rain. The usual route was flooded, and so we had to often had to turn around and find another route. We also drove in conditions that were not normal, including two rain-wrapped tornadoes. So many people on the road with us had to do the same. We became scared that we wouldn’t make it home. We worried that one wrong decision and we could lose our lives or Eclipse. My husband and I both wish we would’ve turned around in Charlotte and said screw it.

The night we finally arrived home, we had more severe weather and tons of rain. The governor received criticism for the evacuation order being lifted, but he wanted people to get home before the flooding hit from the rivers upstream in North Carolina. Most of the roads into the area became flooded and washed out; leaving many people unable to return home.

We saw entire towns flooded, homes destroyed, and people’s lives uprooted from Hurricane Florence. It was so heartbreaking being unable to stop the damage. There’s nothing you can say to make it better. Saying “I’m sorry” only goes so far.

You go through life thinking disaster will never hit you but it can. Everyone here is fatigued. We just want the aftermath of Hurricane Florence to be over with and for the recovery to begin. We’ve decided that we’ll be moving next year; we don’t want to do this again.

Before I end the article, Eclipse wanted me to let you know she kept us going during the hurricane. Eclipse provided lots of opportunities for love and helped us stay calm. Woof power!

If you can, donate to charities to help hurricane victims. Thanks to those who rooted for the Carolinas! #CapeFearStrong #CarolinaStrong

To learn how to prepare for a hurricane, check out: Plan Ahead for Disasters from the Department of Homeland Security.

Written by Nikki Harbeston, Creative Stuff, for LAA Pet Talk. She resides in South Carolina with her husband and dog. Her blog features Diary of a Chubby Piggie and Into the Journey of Dog. Copyright August 2013-March 2014.

If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

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