All photo/video footage taken by Rachel Carter of Hurricane Florence in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina.
The first bands of weather to usher in the hurricane were felt on the afternoon of Thursday, September 13th 2018 in the coastal Carolinas. By the following morning one of the most destructive hurricanes in living memory would make landfall at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.
Before the storm
The week leading up to Hurricane Florence was a commotion of ominous forecasts and stockpiling. In my ten years here, I have never seen more homes boarded up. It was good people took it seriously.
Those seven days before the storm gave us plenty of time to prepare. Seven days is also plenty of time to doubt your own preparedness. For what seemed like that whole week my mom cooked food to then freeze. We bought water, supplies, and took all the necessary precautions. But there’s always the nagging fear that something crucial has been overlooked. What more could we do?
Other people who were trying to decide whether or not to ride out the storm had a lot of questions for us. It was a constant conversation about what to do and how to be ready. When it came to what to pack and putting up storm shutters, I could offer help and experience. When asked about evacuating, I felt bad because I’m of no help there. Personally, I’ve never evacuated away from the coast.
When the voluntary evacuations took place, we stayed put. And we did the same during the mandatory evacuations.
Although neither myself, my mother or father, nor the four dogs between us slept much during the four days of the hurricane, we all came through safe. I did, however, manage to break my foot while carrying 50lb sandbags in 70 mph winds but that’s because I wasn’t wearing shoes and adrenaline was running the show. (I’ve learned my lesson. Sturdy shoes!)
My family has weathered many hurricanes during our years on the coast. With a trusty generator that is turned on and checked every Sunday at 3 pm and even a favorite brand of sandbag, it’s fair to say this was not our first rodeo.
Ignoring a mandatory evacuation is a risk but not everyone has a choice to leave. Without a generator, we would not have stayed. But by staying we were able to help our neighborhood and the neighbors who couldn’t leave and would be most vulnerable at a critical time. It did not need to be discussed. My parents were staying so I would, too.
Despite being downgraded to a Category 1 as it made its way off the sea, Hurricane Florence didn’t behave like most hurricanes. Nearly a year later and the impact of this storm is still obvious in parts of the community. Most hurricanes have breaks from the intense weather as the bands move outward and it will run out of energy after about 36 hours. No ordinary hurricane, Florence pounded us with torrential rain for the whole weekend.
My family and I watched with nervous anticipation as the hurricane crept north towards Sneads Ferry where we live. A mere 50 miles from where it made landfall, Sneads Ferry and Topsail were where the hurricane would hang out for a long weekend.
Before the storm hit, we took the precaution of planning out sleep in shifts. With midnight and high tide coinciding and combined with the storm surge it was important for someone to always be awake to watch the water rise. Not that anyone was sleeping soundly during the storm. Too dark to properly document anything that first night, all I could do was listen.
Before long, we were disconnected and our scope of the world shrank to what was going on around us. I periodically sent out updates on Facebook, unsure if my videos were even uploading and being seen. Unbeknownst to me, the videos of the swirling violence were getting online and would receive over 100,000 views over the course of a week. Intermittent, erratic service put us in touch with family and friends who had evacuated. The people next door were completely unreachable during the worst of it and might as well have been on Mars.
During one brief internet connection we watched as the gas station down the street lost its canopy to the wind. As we watched the television we worried for the newscaster’s safety and, frankly, sanity.
Saturday morning, the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore was filmed in a tee-shirt on Wrightsville Beach. You wouldn’t know it was only an hour drive away. At Wrightsville the weather, albeit a little overcast, looked completely unremarkable. In Sneads Ferry and Topsail the storm raged on with buckets of rain and sharp gusts of wind.
Although the whole of the region experienced flooding and damage from Hurricane Florence, its extra attention to Sneads Ferry and Topsail was costly. School wouldn’t resume in Onslow County for more than 53 days and damages were upward of $125 million (just for the school buildings).
Hurricane Florence permanently changed the landscape of Sneads Ferry and Topsail. Stripped of leaves, once strong trees had snapped in half as if they weren’t 6-feet around. Fullard Creek across the street from our Chadwick Bay home swelled and overtook the road whose pavement cracked and buckled. Docks were underwater, always a bad sign.
Initially, the damage did not seem too severe to homes. However, many roofs had been damaged and, despite standing, most of these homes sustained so much water damage that they were uninhabitable afterwards.
After four days of rain and storm, exhaustion began to set in. The stress of the week before and drama of the weekend had utterly drained us. And in surveying the damage we knew that there was still so much more work to be done. Yet Monday morning after yet another night of fitful sleep I watched the sun rise over Sneads Ferry. It was a brand-new day with another brilliant start, full of light and hope.
No matter how many storms you and yours have weathered, everyone benefits from sharing different tips and strategies on how to prepare for and stay safe during a hurricane. These articles below have some of what I have learned about preparing for a storm but I’m eager to learn how you prepare for the worst. Write us and let us know!