Storm Stories: Carolina Beach resident says Florence beat Fran

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A look at how local residents and emergency management officials fared during the storm

CAROLINA BEACH — Ritchie Hertzel leaned against the back of a backup truck Monday, shirtless and tanned, with a beer in-hand and in-koozie.

Hertzel spent Hurricane Florence at a one-story home at Hamlet Avenue and Fifth Street. He brought along some Budweiser, prepared to ride out the storm.

When it brought some of its worst winds and rains to Carolina Beach, Hertzel said, “I was drinking kinda hard. I took me a nap.”

Florence’s winds, Hertzel said, were more intense than Hurricane Fran’s, even if they weren’t measured quite as high.

As the storm slowly passed, Hertzel watched from the home’s front porch — which faces west.

“We sat there on that porch. Those trees over there laid down,” Hertzel said, gesturing to some pines along the property line. “We never got wet, we never got wind. How that happened, I don’t know. I said, ‘We must be living right or something.'”

At one point Sunday, Hertzel and his friends ventured out to check on damage to the rest of the town. Nearby, the Carolina Beach Lake was flooding nearby roads and forcing people who were returning Monday find detours.

Hertzel’s Sunday exploration, though, was cut short when a police officer saw the group wandering the streets and ordered them home over his loudspeaker.

“The man got us,” Hertzel said.

— Adam Wagner

Historic downtown battered, bruised, but lives on

Residents of downtown Wilmington have become used to kid-glove treatment from hurricanes. During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, many didn’t even lose power.

Hurricane Florence wasn’t so kind, with many residents of Old Wilmington likening the area to a war zone due to many downed trees and damaged homes.

One of the hardest hit areas was Ann Street between Front and Third streets, which saw multiple large downed trees and at least one crushed car. John Parker has lived on Ann between Second and Third since 1992.

He was there for Fran in 1996 and Floyd in ’99, but Florence is “the worst one,” he said as he raked up debris on Monday morning.

“We got flooded in the back and that’s never happened before,” Parker said. “But we’re lucky. No trees on the house.”

Across the street at the historic Hassell-Parsley House, multiple trees fell and the house’s metal roof was ripped off, leading to extensive water damage.

Parker and other residents think a tornado spawned by Florence touched down in the area.

“It was a swish and then a crash,” said Denise Harrison, who’s lived on Ann between Front and Second for 19 years.

All the trees went down around the same time Friday morning, she said.

Margaret Willetts, who lives in Forest Hills and was visiting friends on Ann Street Monday morning, said she wasn’t sure if a tornado caused the damage.

“That’s not wind, that’s water,” Willetts said of the trees that were pushed over and uprooted. “Those trees could be re-planted, but it would be prohibitively expensive.”

Tornado or not, Ann Street is going to look a lot different when the damage is cleaned up.

— John Staton

A welcomed hot meal

It didn’t matter that all the chairs were put up on tables at the Hwy 55 in Hampstead. The restaurant opened with limited staff and menu Monday.

The restaurant team took orders off a limited menu outside and then handed them through the doorway. Customers ordered cheeseburgers, french fries and there were freshly brewed batches of sweet tea customers could buy by the jug.

Owner Bridget Brodie said they had power, internet and a limited food supply so they thought they would feed the community.

“We saw the lineman in our parking lot so we got to work first feeding them and making them coffee to send them back out on the road with,” Brodie said. “Then we opened for customers and people are just excited to get out if their homes and have some hot food.”

Laura Chasco and her daughter Stephanie Delgado were just driving by when they saw Hwy 55 was open and it came as sweet relief.

“It’s been three days of hell,” Chasco said.

Their ceiling started to leak and crumble in on their home on Sloop Point Loop Road and they still have no electricity. After several days of their fridge food spoiling, they were able to order some cheeseburgers, fries and onion rings.

“Hot food is just mandatory,” Chasco said.

— Ashley Morris

Waiting for rescue

NEW HANOVER COUNTY – Christine Strow didn’t spend Saturday night on her couch waiting for the remnants of Hurricane Florence to pass. She spent it floating in her foldable kayak in her living room.

Strow didn’t evacuate from her NorthChase home of five years because it has never flooded, even during the storms it weathered before she lived there. So when water started seeping and then rushing through the walls and the floor just after 10 p.m. Saturday night, she was caught off guard.

But she didn’t have much time to grapple with it. The water was rising fast.

“I was alone with two dogs and I drive a Mini Cooper,” she said Sunday. “There was no way I was getting out.”

So she called 911 and waited. By midnight, the water reached her waist. She continued to call 911, but was told she was on a list and they would get to her when they could.

That was when she unfolded the kayak and started floating with her couch and coffee table, both of which were no longer fixed to the ground. There, she waited, with a few candles burning on the window sill and her dogs, Pickles and Becca, keeping her company.

Around 4:30 a.m., she saw lights coming down her street. It wasn’t emergency services, it was the Cajun Navy.

“They were awesome,” she said. “They had a john boat and they were just riding around the neighborhood looking for people in need. They said they wouldn’t have known I was there if not for the candles.”

After scooping up Strow, her dogs and all she could carry, they picked up a few more neighbors and took them back to their makeshift base before delivering them to the Loew’s Food on College Road.

Her parents live in Monkey Junction but couldn’t get to her until Sunday morning brought some sunshine and receding flood waters.

Sunday afternoon, she returned to her home, now free of the water but too far gone to inhabit.

“I pretty much lost everything,” she said. “My car is totaled. It’s done. Everything waist high is flooded. I didn’t have flood insurance so that’s gonna be a headache.”

Then, she starts to laugh.

“I laugh because it’s kind of the only way I can get through it,” she said. “I’m safe and my dogs are safe. Everything else can be replaced.”

— Hunter Ingram

Mezzo-soprano looks forward to post-storm healing

Hurricane Florence is Kathryn Findlen’s third disaster in three years.

The downtown Wilmington resident moved to town just two months ago from Austin, Texas, where floods put a tree through her roof in 2015. In 2017, she caught a fungal lung infection there in the humid aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

At about 6:30 a.m. Friday morning, around the time when Florence’s eye was passing near Wilmington, what Findlen described as sounding “like a tornado” ripped through her block at Second and Orange streets, tearing a metal roof off an adjacent house and toppling a masonry wall adjacent to her back yard. It then knocked down a brick fence bordering Orange Street that she said had been built in the 1970s.

“I thought the wind was going to tear the roof off,” Findlen said.

Previously, Findlen was resigned to riding out the storm “but I really wasn’t that concerned,” she said.”This house is 174 years old. It’s been through storms.”

With her husband, Scott McAfee, Findlen purchased the historic Ballard-Potter-Bellamy House (1844), across from the Hannah Block USO/Community Arts Center, earlier this year. A trained classical singer, the mezzo-soprano wants to immerse herself in Wilmington’s music community, but a planned recital with University of North Carolina Wilmington pianist and music professor Barry Salwen is, like most Wilmington arts events, now tentative at best.

A large magnolia tree in Findlen’s front yard provided a close call. It broke in half and narrowly missed her house, coming to rest against her stately front porch. She had started the process of asking about having the tree trimmed or removed, a process that has now been expedited by Hurricane Florence.

Nothing in her home music studio, which includes a Schoenhut baby piano, was damaged. Findlen has rehearsals scheduled for a local concert, but her heart isn’t in it right now, she said.

The arts will likely prove healing for Wilmington when the time is right, but for Findlen at least, that time isn’t here quite yet.

— John Staton

Uncertainty for folks left in shelters

WILMINGTON — It was unconventional high school reunion for Patricia Gorman when she arrived at Hoggard High School Sunday. Gorman, who graduated from the school years back, was one of hundreds of locals taking shelter there as clean-up begins after Hurricane Florence.

“It hasn’t changed much, it’s still the same high school,” she said Monday. “It’s just weird sleeping in your old high school.”

Gorman said she had been unable to check on her apartment since before the storm struck Thursday. Power is out at the apartment office, and she recently moved, so she doesn’t know any neighbors to call.

Monday, she crossed Shipyard Boulevard in search of coffee at the Harris Teeter. The afternoon heat was so bad that she used scissors to cut off the legs of her Victoria’s Secret sweatpants.

“I don’t think I’ll stay again if we get a hurricane,” she said. “I think I’ll go away to the Raleigh area or Cary, somewhere a couple hours away.”

The stress of being away from home was evident on many faces at Hoggard.

George of Rocky Point was staying there with his son, mom and niece. With two young kids in tow, he said the security measures were getting tedious — being wanded down, having your stuff checked through, signing in. He said the process of checking in and out could take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on lines.

“It’s almost like we’re criminals or something,” he said.

The next step for the family was finding a clear road back to Pender County.

“Once we’ve gotten to that part where we’ve got somebody to give us a ride, we’ve got to figure out a way home,” he said.

— Cammie Bellamy

‘I had fun’

KURE BEACH — In the midst of Hurricane Florence, Mark Taylor was on a ladder.

Taylor, the maintenance manager at Pier View Apartments and Cottages, walked out of his door Saturday afternoon to see a nearby home’s newly installed roof flapping on the front and back ends. Taylor said he climbed on a ladder and put about 80 screws on the roof to keep it in place, even as police yelled for him to get down.

Taylor described trying to walk along his second floor railing in the middle of Florence’s winds, gusts shoving his skinny frame back and forth. The rainfall also made a tremendous amount of noise, making it difficult to hear his generator-powered TV.

“Last night here on the end of the island it was raining so hard I thought the world was coming to an end,” Taylor said.

As the storm passed, Taylor assessed the damage, taking in the cottages’ missing shingles and the broken window at one resident’s apartment — a hole that was quickly covered with plywood.

“I did the best I could,” Taylor said, “because I was the only one here.”

Monday, Taylor had gathered a quarter-full garbage can of shingles and and thrown them away. He was helping returning residents unpack pickup beds full of things and had helped a nearby business owner clean up a leak in his store.

Asked if he was glad he stayed, Taylor said, “Yes, sir. I had fun.”

— Adam Wagner

Standing strong

KURE BEACH — Paul Robertson didn’t expect the Kure Beach Pier to be standing after Florence, but there it was today, some missing railing the full extent of its damage.

“It’s great. I really expected it to be a lot worse here. Overall I’m extremely pleased,” said Robertson, who owns the pier. “We dodged a bullet.”

Monday, Robertson’s pickup truck was parked in front of the pierhouse with plywood, a ladder and a drill in the back. Seagulls perched on boards where railings stood before they were blown off by Florence’s winds.

It will likely be a couple of weeks before the pier is open again, Robertson said, a timeline he is pleased with.

“The biggest thing is going to be getting supplies here to do it,” said Robertson, who stayed on Kure Beach during Florence, an experience he described as fine.

— Adam Wagner

Grocery stores offer glimmer of hope

OGDEN — Monday morning the Ogden Publix looked like the hottest nightclub in town, with a line down the sidewalk and police letting people in a few at a time.

After four days of eating hurricane supplies, Claudia Bradish was excited to get whatever cut of meat she could find.

“I never want to eat peanut butter and jelly again,” she said.

Lawrence and Meghan Moorman stood chatting with Bradish in line. The couple and their children weathered Hurricane Florence in their Ogden home with Lawrence’s parents, whop evacuated from Oriental.

“They definitely are a little bit stuck, because Wilmington is an island now,” Meghan said.

Florence’s worst came to the Moormans’ neighborhood Saturday, when they say a pair of tornadoes was reported overnight. No one was hurt, but rising water the next day left everyone holding their holding breath. At one point, Lawrence ran into the yard to dig trenches to keep the water back from the house.

“It sucked,” Meghan said. “I would say that Saturday was worse than the actual hurricane, because that’s when the sheets of rain came.”

Like many others in Wilmington, the group was most worried about looting in the wake of the storm. Bradish, who works at a Food Lion, said the day before the hurricane hit, a man tried to walk out of the store with his pants stuffed with stolen meat.

While Bradish’s power came back Sunday, the Moorman family was still in the dark. They were hoping to pick up something grill-able Monday after finishing off the last of the hot dogs Sunday, a meal Meghan said rivaled any restaurant’s.

“I will remember that hot dog for the rest of my life,” she said.

— Cammie Bellamy

College Road business keeps eye out for looters

WILMINGTON — Between pitch black, whistling wind and the threat of looters, Sunday night was tense for Rooted Kava Lounge owner Coley Oh.

Oh and other employees slept — or tried to sleep — at the South College Road business last night to keep it safe, and make room for storm evacuees at their homes.

“My boyfriend’s family lost their home out in Leland; I think it was probably a tornado, but their roof came off,” Oh said. “I have a generator (at my house), and that’s certainly better than no roof and no power.”

Earlier this week, Oh posted a Facebook video describing how looters have targeted several of her neighbor businesses in University Landing shopping center. Glass was shattered on a few doors there Monday.

“I’m not playing with them,” she said. “What they’ve been doing is kicking in the bottom of the doors so when the police ride by, you can’t hardly tell that it’s been looted.”

Oh owns two other properties in town, including a recording studio, and said she was planning to open them up to people whose homes have been destroyed. She worries how locals will start their recovery process if they’re unable to get to work and earn wages.

“This homeless situation is going to be crazy — I have no idea how FEMA is going to come in here and help,” she said. “And nobody can afford these couple of weeks off.”

But she noted that Rooted Kava Lounge is open to anyone (18 and up) in need of a friendly word, cup of coffee or place to chill. They’re asking that patrons spend at least a dollar at the business Monday to support staff.

“I feel overwhelmed, but also overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “Absolutely everyone is welcomed here always.”

— Cammie Bellamy

Hoping to get back

Jimmy Fletcher has ridden out every hurricane during his 15 years living in Shallotte.

Except this one.

“We’ve never really left. We’ve stayed for all of them actually. And we’ve always stayed in our house,” Fletcher said. “This one kind of scared me so we decided to head to the mountains”

As warnings of what could be coming spread through Southeastern North Carolina, Fletcher and his wife, Lyn, left to spend a few day with his family and a few with hers in the Blue Ridge.

Neighbors and friends have been keeping them up-to-date on the how the town fared. They’ve been told the damage is minimal, with businesses reopening in town.

The problem isn’t what awaits them at home, it’s the path getting there.

Major flooding on the main thoroughfares that lead back to Shallotte will create a complicated path from the foothills back to the beach. Fletcher isn’t even sure if he’ll be able to reach Shallotte on Monday, even if he navigates backroads.

“I don’t know if we’ll make it or not,” Fletcher said.

Just doing their jobs

Oreos, Chips Ahoy and a large supply of non-perishable foods are keeping the Sloop Point Volunteer Fire Department going just like everyone else. Their kitchen was full of hurricane snacks Monday morning as a firefighter team sizzled bacon on the stove ahead of another long day.

Fire lieutenant Justin Paye said Monday marks day six of storm duty, because the firefighters were out all day last Wednesday warning those in low-lying areas to evacuate.

“We’re fortunate to have power here so we are just ready to go out and help others that are not as fortunate and need our help,” said Paye.

During the storm, Paye said, getting access to people was the most difficult part of the job and firefighters have spent the past few days with chainsaws in hand and checking on homes where there was flash flooding.

“It’s just the job,” Paye said.

— Ashley Morris

Taking things in stride

OGDEN — As Duke Energy trucks rolled down Middle Sound Loop Road Monday, Drew Massey was one of a handful of people picking up his yard. Though his wife and kids would likely be stuck in Washington, D.C., for a couple more days, Massey counted himself lucky that he had weathered the storm so well.

“The house fared pretty well, just a couple of leaks,” said Massey, waving at every car that passed. “This neighborhood’s OK. We don’t have power, but who does, you know?”

— Cammie Bellamy

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