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'It looked like World War III had hit': Carolinians reflect on past storms, prepare for Hurricane Florence

Carolinians are a storm-savvy lot. Almost every year a hurricane or powerful tropical storm threatens their coastlines and even interior communities.

And usually they, well, weather the winds and rains with trademark aplomb. Enduring an occasional violent storm is simply a part of life in eastern North and South Carolina. Even the Raleigh-based NHL hockey team is aptly named the Hurricanes.

But the fast-approaching Hurricane Florence feels different from other storms that have hit the Carolinas in recent decades.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like this,” said Kevin Nelson, a lifelong Tar Heel and second counselor in the Kinston North Carolina Stake.

Latter-day Saints living along Florence’s projected path are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Many living in coastal communities are heeding evacuation orders.

More than 1 million people face mandatory evacuations Tuesday in coastal areas of North and South Carolina, along with Virginia, in response to one of the strongest hurricanes to threaten the region in decades, according to CNN.

Tropical-storm-force winds are due to reach the coasts of North and South Carolina late Wednesday, and hurricane-force winds may be felt around noon Thursday, ahead of landfall likely Thursday night, CNN meteorologist Chad Meyers said.

But not all Church members living in evacuation-ordered communities are taking to the roads. Instead, they plan to stay inside their homes and batten down the proverbial hatches.

Some opting not to evacuate worry that they will find themselves isolated by floodwaters or other storm hazards and not be able to return to their homes for an extended period, said President Nelson.

“Most of the rest from our stake will likely evacuate and find a hotel room, although I know of one family who is planning to go as far way as Georgia to be with family members,” he said.

Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff released a statement saying, "Missionaries in the path of Hurricane Florence are taking necessary precautions to remain safe as the storm prepares to make landfall. Missionaries serving in coastal areas are being moved to safe locations with adequate supplies. Mission presidents are instructing missionaries on safety protocols as well as how to offer service in appropriate ways in the aftermath of the storm. The Church continues to monitor conditions on the ground and will make any necessary adjustments as the storm progresses. We pray for the safety and well-being of all those in the path of the hurricane."

Charleston South Carolina Stake President Darren Johnson said many living inside the boundaries of his stake are also accustomed to hurricanes. “But this looks more serious than what we’ve seen in the past.”

A letter from the Charleston stake presidency was read in units throughout the stake during Sunday meetings counseling members to be prepared and follow the direction of civic authorities.

“We've cancelled our of our activities this week so people have time to prepare,” said President Johnson.

People shop at the Harris Teeter, filling up on water and supplies as Hurricane Florence becomes a threat to the coast Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Charleston, South Carolina.
People shop at the Harris Teeter, filling up on water and supplies as Hurricane Florence becomes a threat to the coast Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Grace Beahm Alford, The Post And Courier

Water and other provisions are reportedly scarce in grocery and hardware stores, although supply trucks continued Tuesday to deliver high-demand goods. Lines are long at many gas stations, but there have been no reports of outages.

Local priesthood leaders say effective communication to assess the needs of the members before, during and after the storm is among their greatest concern.

The next several days will likely require much ministering, said Wilmington North Carolina Stake President David Glew, who is in frequent contact with local Area Seventies and his fellow stake presidents in storm-threatened regions.

“Our leaders want to make sure everyone is being cared for,” he said.

Former Utah resident Marjeli Fonseca has lived in New Bern, North Carolina, for several years. She’s watched as powerful storms came and went, causing little alarm. But Florence is unnerving even many of the lifelong residents in her community.

Fonseca and her family are waiting a bit longer to decide if they will evacuate. Her husband, Robin, is a Marine Corps officer stationed at the nearby Cherry Point air station. It’s unknown if he will be allowed to leave or ordered to stay on duty.

But the Fonsecas are certain they will be fine. They have taken steps to be ready both temporally and spiritually. “And as Church members, we’ve always been counseled to be prepared,” she said.

James Wemyss puts out more supplies at The Home Depot on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Wilmington, N.C. Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week.
James Wemyss puts out more supplies at The Home Depot on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Wilmington, N.C. Florence rapidly strengthened into a potentially catastrophic hurricane on Monday as it closed in on North and South Carolina, carrying winds and water that could wreak havoc over a wide stretch of the eastern United States later this week. Photo: Ken Blevins, The Star-News

Hurricane Florence’s projected path is reminiscent of Hurricane Fran, said Raleigh North Carolina Stake President William Thornton. In 1996, Fran caused extensive inland damage in the North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh.

“It looked like World War III had hit,” he said.

While obviously concerned, President Thornton said he is not frightened. “Our spirits are good and we’re putting our trust in God.”

As of Tuesday, no evacuation orders were in place in the Raleigh stake. But members are identifying member-owned homes that might be vulnerable while making plans to assist if needed.

The days following Hurricane Florence will surely offer essential opportunities to serve and minister, President Thornton added. “We’ve already started organizing teams to help our friends and fellow members living near the coast.”

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