Florence evacuee: ‘I may lose a lot of stuff. But I won’t lose my life’

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Bill Davis says that when he heard reports about the deluge aimed at Charlotte, he knew he faced a hard move: He had to leave his flood-prone apartment and head to a Red Cross shelter.

“With what we’re getting ready to have, I know I made the right decision coming here,” Davis said Saturday evening, during a break in conversation with other evacuees at East Mecklenburg High School. “I may lose a lot of stuff. But I won’t lose my life.”

Davis is one of more than 17,000 people who who have uprooted their lives this week and come to makeshift communities across the Southeast — shelters set up in schools, churches and community centers.

As Hurricane Florence continues its slow-motion assault on the Carolinas, many of the shelter residents have taken solace in friendships they’ve developed with new neighbors.

Davis, for instance, met Antonio Dodson, who lives in a flood-prone neighborhood near the Cape Fear River in Fayetteville. Dodson said he headed to the shelter at East Mecklenburg earlier this week after seeing signs that there was trouble ahead for his hometown.

“When I saw that gas was out and there were no water bottles left to be bought, I got the idea that this is a serious storm,” he said.

The shelter at East Mecklenburg, set up at the school gym, is now at its 160-person capacity. Red Cross officials are steering those in need to one of four other shelters that have been set up at Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools: West Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, South Mecklenburg and Ardrey Kell. Together, the five Charlotte shelters are now home to more than 400 people.

There were so many cots set up in the East Mecklenburg gym Saturday evening that there was little room to walk between them.

Some residents came from Charlotte and surrounding communities, others from flooded areas like Jacksonville and Wilmington. The oldest residents were more than 70 years old; the youngest, just four months. The shelter had also become a temporary home for five pets: two cats, one dog, a bunny and a guinea pig.

A group of men clustered around a television that was showing the Auburn-Louisiana State football game. In a room that adjoined the opposite end of the gym, a group of children played the board game Sorry.

Red Cross officials say they’ll take anyone who needs a place to stay, as long as they abide by shelter rules: No alcohol or illegal drugs. No smoking inside. No weapons.

Among those who came to the East Mecklenburg shelter were Jimmy Ross and his brothers, Timothy and Brian. Before arriving at the shelter, they’d been living in a tent behind a Bi-Lo store in Monroe. They’re all planning to get temporary jobs in Charlotte.

Jimmy Ross was living in Monroe when Hurricane Hugo wreaked havoc there. He didn’t want to be living in a tent when another major storm hit.

“It’s wonderful here,” Jimmy Ross said. “It’s a roof over our heads instead of walking the streets all the time. We’ll stay until they say they can’t keep us any more.”

Alexander: 704-358-5060; @amesalex