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Dane Suarez and Kerriann Otano call Topsail Beach their favorite place on earth.
It’s where Otano’s family has been coming to for decades, the site of their proposal, even where her grandmother’s ashes were scattered.
“It’s like a second home,” Otano said in an interview Friday.
And for two years, this is where the California couple planned to stage their dream wedding.
Hurricane Florence crashed the party.
But in just 12 hours, a backup wedding was quickly assembled — in New York.
Topsail Beach evacuated
The California couple, both 31-year-old professional opera singers, drove cross-country from their home in San Jose to their wedding in Topsail Beach, just north of Wilmington.
They arrived Saturday, Sept. 8, when the mass of wind and rain that would become Hurricane Florence was more than a thousand miles off the coast of North Carolina. Like so many renters and residents familiar with the beach, Otano said she had watched the storms before, how they’d often come to nothing or turn north or south and miss Topsail completely.
“We’ve seen the storms in Topsail; they breeze past,” Otano said. “It rains and there’s lightning, but the homes are on stilts. We’ve never been evacuated or heard people talk about being evacuated. We rented this big house, we thought if it rains, we’ll have the wedding in the living room. Then it became a tropical storm, then a hurricane, and then (the category storm) number kept getting bigger and bigger.”
On Tuesday, they got the evacuation order like thousands of others along North Carolina’s coast.
“It was like a punch in the gut, we were just in shock,” Otano said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever cried as much as I cried when I found out.”
But determined to get married this weekend, they set off for Long Island, where Otano grew up. They drove away from Topsail while the skies were still clear, and posted a question on Facebook: Could anyone make a wedding in Long Island possible — hundreds of miles from where it was planned?
“The crazy thing, to that simple question, we had hundreds of people making calls and emailing venues, finding a florist,” Otano said.
They spent the drive scouring the internet for venues that could host their nuptials on a few days notice. Within 12 hours, they had planned a whole new wedding in a whole new state, but manged to keep their date and will get married by the water like they wanted.
“It’s quite different from what we had planned, but the scope is so much bigger now,” Otano said.
A new wedding takes shape
Suarez’s family drove through the night Thursday from Illinois with his birth certificate so they could get a New York marriage license. A friend from high school offered up her husband’s restaurant A Lure Chowder House as a venue. Her high school Latin teacher offered to officiate, and Long Island’s Zilnicki Farms donated the flowers.
“We were going to get married, surrounded by 100 of our favorite people in our favorite place on earth,” Otano said. “Now it feels like hundreds of people are coming to our wedding, because they helped plan it. People I went to high school with, who I haven’t seen in a decade. Friends of the family. The opera community. A friend in Paris was calling venues in Long Island. People from all around the world have been part of it. It’s better than I could have imagined.”
Topsail is still a part of the couple’s wedding story, just not in the way they planned. As they drove away, Otano feared for the place she was leaving behind. In her Facebook post she wrote, “We are devastated for the damage that our favorite place in the world will sustain, and we are sending our hopeful wishes for safety for all the occupants.”
She said they’d be back next year for the family’s beach week.
“We’re going to go back next summer,” Otano said. “We’ll find a way to have this reunion properly in Topsail.”