10 Days of Hurricane Florence

On Tuesday, September 11th, several of us gathered at the church to pray for God’s mercy on the people of this area. Our area was where Hurricane Florence was predicted to make landfall and hover – perhaps for a couple of days – and at the time of our prayer was a Category 4, very nearly approaching a Category 5. The storm was moving toward us over warm water, and anyone with knowledge of hurricanes knows that they generally get more powerful over the water. We prayed for the storm to diminish and be still that night.

Sikki seemed worried about the impact of the storm and told me the next morning that she wanted to flee the area. I told her I would not leave southeastern NC. I have a conviction that God called me to this area, and I did not feel right about leaving it in a time of trouble, especially when many were staying. However, I told her she had my blessing to go to Delaware if she wished, and take the kids and pets with her. My sister in New Bern NC was also considering moving further inland, perhaps to my mother’s place in Kernersville NC. I told Sikki I would go and stay at my sister’s house in New Bern with my brother-in-law, and we decided that I would take Garrett with me.

We boarded up the house on the oceanside and did all we could to get our few possessions up as high as we could, anticipating that the garage at least would flood, and praying that the flood waters would not reach the house itself, which would most likely leave us homeless. Sikki left for Delaware, and Garrett and I headed to New Bern.

My sister decided to stay as well, with her seven children. I watched and listened to news reports when I could and, “inexplicably,” the storm was lowered to a Cat 2, and then a Cat 1. No one – not even the oldtimers in our area – could ever remember a hurricane diminishing in strength over open water. It was the goodness of God answering our prayers, and the prayers of many others who remembered us. As it turned out the storm surge hit New Bern very hard and the entire downtown was flooded; several people had to be rescued. But at my sister’s house we simply lost power for three days. The winds weren’t bad enough to even keep us from going outside. The kids played and laughed in the rain. My brother-in-law had borrowed a generator and we were able to have running (cold) water, refrigeration, and lights for a few hours each day. At night I slept in a puddle of sweat, and everything inside was humid and sticky, but we were all safe. I saw my brother for awhile on the second day.

The storm dumped an immense amount of rain because it moved very slowly over the region. On the fourth day, I was reading news reports that the rivers near the coast were expected to flood and overflow several roads as the water from inland moved toward the ocean. A family friend left a message on my phone not to attempt to return to Brunswick County – he said it was impossible to get back. My brother-in-law also advised against me and Garrett trying to go home.

So of course on the morning of the fifth day Garrett and I left to try and get back where we belong. It is typically a 2.5 hour drive from New Bern, but the trip took us 11 hours. I was trying to make a swoop from the Raleigh area down into the western part of the county, but the roads were just an impassable mess. It was like being a rat in a maze. I used two navigation apps and a state website that was supposed to have current road information with closures, etc., but all of our information was faulty and incomplete and it just became an endurance task. We came down in the central region and met failure. So we moved west. Then we came down in the western region. Again, everything was blocked. Finally I told Garrett we were getting the heck out of NC completely and set a route for Myrtle Beach SC. We had to cross a couple of roads with moving water, and at one time I disobeyed a “Road Closed” sign to get us out of the gridlock. Throughout the journey it was tough to find food, open gas stations, and gas. But eventually we made it to SC and drove north into Brunswick County without any problem. We had encouraging news when were an hour from home: a neighbor texted that the power had been restored. Perfect timing. As soon as we got home, we walked around the property with flashlights, looking for damage. There was an immense amount of tree branches and leaves, and two large trees were down in the yard, but nothing had hit the house and the flood waters had not risen very far at all. Not a single window was broken and everything was in order inside and out. We had a ton of cleanup to do, but I was really glad to be home.

On the first day back, Garrett and I went shopping and bought a lot of canned goods. There was no cold product of any kind at our local grocery stores. We took down the plywood from the windows. I cleaned out the fridge, which had been left with food and milk in it – all too gross and horrible to recount here. I bleached the shelves. We swept and vacuumed and straightened the house. There was so much debris in the yard that the driveway was impassable, so we raked and picked up all around the driveway. We cleaned up the garage. Then some friends from church came over for dinner and brought hamburgers, which was nice because we couldn’t buy meat.

The second day we spent 8 hours in the sweltering heat trying to repair our driveway, which had a massive trench caused by the erosion of water. We laid bricks and concrete and toted load after load of wet sand up the hill to put it back where the waters had removed it. We were both pretty beat afterwards, but we went to a “thanksgiving service” that night at the church to thank the Lord for His goodness.

The third day Garrett went to work for his employer and I stayed home, putting things away and working on fixing my chainsaw, which wouldn’t start. I did laundry and went sort of easy that day, as I was sore from the driveway work the day before.

The fourth day, I worked on cleaning the front yard. Garrett went to work on the island again with his employer. I spent the whole day piling up branches and still didn’t finish even the front yard.

The fifth day home, Sikki set out from Delaware to return home. It took her over 16 hours to get back, but she made it. I spent the day working on the front yard, cleaning the bathrooms, organizing the garage, doing laundry and dishes, and generally preparing space.

Sikki and I lost eight days of work from the storm and its consequences, but our family was kept safe throughout the time of Hurricane Florence. There is massive flooding in the interior of NC – just as there was with Hurricane Matthew in 2015 – but I cannot imagine the devastation we would have seen if the Lord had not been merciful and “shortened the storm.”

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