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Column: Evacuation isn’t for cowards

For the first time in the 40-plus years I have called the Outer Banks home, I evacuated as a hurricane drifted closer to our coast. I didn’t want to go. I had convinced myself that the direction of the storm was turning southward. My instincts were no match for those around me, who for a week had urged me to go. They reminded me I was getting older and Hurricane Florence was a massive storm.

Two days after a mandatory evacuation was called, at the urging of my wife and son, I reluctantly agreed. I was out of arguments, the storm track was still uncertain and the window to leave was closing. Annie and I packed the car, loaded up our dog and cat and literally headed for the hills. My son’s home in Asheville would be our destination.

As I left Dare County, driving across the Virginia Dare bridge, the traffic was light. I thought this might not be too bad after all, most of those who were fleeing had already left. I hadn’t thought this through. In Raleigh we joined what appeared to be most of southeastern North Carolina running ahead of the storm. Calling it heavy traffic was an understatement.

After inching along in the bumper to bumper exodus from the capital city to High Point, Annie looked over and said, “This might have been a mistake.” I replied with silence. I thought, well, it’s too late now, the bridges back home had been closed to incoming traffic.

Yet as we crawled west we were reminded of the impending danger. I saw a convoy of power trucks heading east and then another and another. What looked like a line of National Guard trucks passed us. They were all going to staging areas to deal with a recovery yet to come. Maybe our evacuation wasn’t a mistake.

Once in Asheville we were safe. I enjoyed visiting with my son Trevor. We got to watch Sunday football, we got to meet his latest girlfriend and I got to try Pho at one of Trevor’s favorite Vietnamese restaurants. Yet it wasn’t a vacation. Most of my time was spent online checking news sites, watching the weather channel, following the DOT road condition postings. I love Asheville but this was a stressed-filled visit.

By Friday night I wanted to go home. Dare County had been reopened. It didn’t matter, Florence was impacting the areas between Asheville and the Outer Banks. By Saturday the storm had caught up with us. I felt trapped. It rained most of Sunday but by Monday morning it was beginning to clear. It was finally time. It didn’t matter to me that the forecast for most of the state still called for heavy rain at times and possible road flooding. Come hell or high water we were heading home.

As it turned out the trip home was uneventful. Traffic was heavy at times but moved freely. The biggest challenge was the fall-off-the-mountain road leading out of Asheville that combines the challenge of an Alpine downhill ski slope with a European style Grand Prix race.

Along the way home we saw cars parked high up on roadside slopes. Had their drivers been trying to escape rising water? Some road signs still warned of possible flash flooding. Although the storm was now well to our west, I watched the clouds move in that telltale counter clockwise motion. It didn’t rain or at least not much. I thought this was one big storm.

As we approached the bridges in Tyrrell County, the water was high along the roadside but it hadn’t come over. It was clear sailing and we soon were home. We had a home to come back to. We were tired but unharmed. My thoughts drifted to those just south of the Outer Banks whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Some would go home and find loved ones and friends who had stayed had been injured or killed. I had little to complain about.

When the next storm threatens I’m sure the “should I stay or should I go” debate will rage once again in my house. We will watch the storm track, make a call and it will be easier for me to leave, knowing what I can expect.

If I learned anything, I have learned that when emergency management calls for an evacuation they do it with one goal and that is to get us out of harm’s way. Hurricane Florence was a massive, killer storm and had it jogged just a bit northward the images we are seeing on the news of our neighbors to the south would have been images of us. Evacuating is stressful and comes with its own challenges. It isn’t for cowards. But a hurricane isn’t a fair fight.

Gregory Clark is a writer for the Coastland Times. Reach him at greg.clark@thecoastlandtimes.com.

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