Up and down the Carolina coast, they had been warned, cajoled and sternly cautioned all week: A powerhouse storm is thundering ever closer, get out now.
But on Thursday, there were those who remained – whether by circumstance, whim, resolve or a desire to help. These are the voices of those on the front lines when Hurricane Florence raged at their doorstep.
'Excellent hurricane adventure'
WILMINGTON, N.C. – For Barry Freed, 53, riding out a hurricane was a chance to cross something off his "bucket list."
Armed with a few sodas, some M&Ms, Doritos and a copy of Moby Dick, the Greensboro resident booked an AirBnB at a condo here.
As skies darkened Thursday and winds whipped up at Waterway Lodge, just off the marina near Wrightsville Beach, Freed admitted he wasn't really prepared.
“I kind of thought of this impulsively,” he said. “It’s kind of a stupid idea.”
Yet Freed was determined to savor the experience, his “excellent hurricane adventure.” The AirBnb rental was a mere $70 per night, which he said was a bargain. “I’ve got everything,” he said, pointing to a mini-fridge with salty snacks and candy.
The water to the condo shut off Thursday, though power remained on. Freed was not deterred. “I’m feeling pretty good about it,” he said. “I think I’ll pack it up as one of my experiences with a tale to tell hopefully – or I’ll be dead, one or the other.”
– Daniel Gross, The Greenville News
Homeless, but not worried
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Sitting on the boardwalk not far from his bike, homeless resident Shane Nur Bacchus shrugged at the approaching storm. The British Guyana native said he arrived in Myrtle Beach in 2012 and is known locally as "Rooster" because of his wavy blonde Mohawk and clean-shaved head.
Bacchus, who wears shorts and an unbuttoned Army fatigue jacket, calls himself a celebrity at the beach. And he says he is a familiar figure to police.
His plan if the storm became too treacherous? He would tell local cops: "'Hey, it's me, I'm drunk. They would take me to the jailhouse."
Otherwise, Bacchus planned to shelter in a truck parked at a car wash with a large water tank in its bed. "A hurricane won't flip it," he said. "I'll be fine. I have enough food for two days."
Bacchus said he and his friends have had hurricane parties for the past three days. "It's been sunny for two weeks now," he said laughing. "We need some rain."
– Tim Smith, The Greenville News
Nothing 'this old man hasn't seen'
SWAN QUARTER, N.C. – Jimmy Williams, 80, and his wife, Ellen Louise Williams, 79, say they are storm veterans who have withstood dozens of tropical weather systems during their lives on the North Carolina coast.
Ellen Louise uses a walker since a car crash injury in 1995. They decided to stay put in their 115-year-old house on Main Street as Florence neared – and they say they are ready.
"We're gonna ride it out," Jimmy Williams said. "I was here during Hazel (in 1954). I went right through the middle of that one, so I doubt there is anything Florence will show me that this old man hasn't seen."
Their two-story house took a hit in 2003 when floods from Hurricane Isabel sent 18 inches of water onto the porch and the first floor. "We weren't ready for that one," Ellen Louise Williams said. "We had just bought new furniture and had to replace it all. We may have to do that again this time."
The couple moved their yellow Volkswagen to the shoulder of the road in front of their house Thursday morning, where the ground is slightly higher, in hopes it would stay dry.
"I just have to have faith that it won't come in the house," Ellen Louise Williams said. "We couldn't figure any place to go even if we evacuated. There's nowhere to go."
So, the couple is staying with their black Lab, Bud, who isn't allowed in the house – but will be brought onto the screened front porch.
– Nikie Mayo, Independent Mail
Waiting to be deployed
RALEIGH, N.C. – Waiting. That's what Fire Chief Jay Riley was doing as he surveyed the nearly 1,000 cots that dotted the floor in a hollowed-out shell of a long-closed Kmart Super Center here.
Riley, chief of the Marysville, Ohio, Fire Department, and his highly trained team of 16 swift water rescue technicians – along with six boats and five vehicles – was standing by for his orders as Hurricane Florence was barreling in. “We came here to work and hopefully make an impact, and we’re ready to do that,” Riley said.
The big-box store is now the central nervous system of the coordinated Florence emergency response efforts and a temporary home for hundreds of first responders who have traveled from across the country. There are firefighters, EMTs, National Guard troops and others
During a brief tour of the facility Thursday morning, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper met with Riley and his team and thanked them for lending their time and skills. “I’m so grateful to you guys from Ohio that we won’t even have the first-in-flight debate,” Cooper told Riley, joking about the perennial fight over which state gets to claim the Wright Brothers and their achievements.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Hurricane Response Staging Area had deployed more than 400 first responders — from 16 different states from New Hampshire to California — to positions around the state.
– Sam DeGrave, Asheville Citizen-Times
'We've lived your pain'
ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. – For retired educators Reginald and Beverly Riddick, it's all about giving back.
As winds began to gust outside from the first bands of Hurricane Florence, the couple were helping run the only shelter in Pasquotank County in a building on Elizabeth City State University. Children, parents and the elderly filed in and out of the Red Cross shelter, grabbing blankets and toys from their cars.
The Riddicks have dedicated themselves to the shelter because they lost their home in a 2014 tornado.
“That’s what precipitated us to join Red Cross to give back because they were so gracious to us,” Reginald Riddick said. “It gives us something ... to relate to the client that, ‘We’re not just saying we feel your pain because we’ve lived your pain.’”
The couple are among people working in shifts at the shelter, which can hold 300 people. About 100 were already there Thursday; there is plenty of food, blankets, water and Gatorade.
Ervin Burnham, 65, will stay the night. He fears wind damage to his home and the loss of electricity. The shelter, he said, is more comfortable and “a better place to be.”
– Sean Rossman, USA TODAY