Millions were waiting on Hurricane Florence this week, but few had a perspective on it as unique as that of Aimee Driscoll.
The 34-year-old Auburn woman was at a hospital in Durham, North Carolina, on Thursday for treatment related to a double lung transplant she underwent four years ago. Whatever mischief Hurricane Florence had in mind for the Durham area, Driscoll planned to watch it from the windows of her hospital room.
“The mood here is varied,” she said Thursday night. “The whole state, especially the coast, has been in prep and evacuation mode all week. Some are taking it seriously and evacuating; others are just hunkering down, and waiting it out. Most believe that the hurricanes are never as bad as predicted on the news. But emergency precautions are in place.”
Even in the hospital, Driscoll got a sense that Durham was turning into a kind of ghost town as businesses shut down in preparation for the storm. At the same time, plans were in place to keep the hospital staffed.
“Most of the hospital staff are staying at nearby hotels with back-up generators, so they can still come to work,” Driscoll said. “Schools, businesses, and other facilities will be closed tonight through Monday. There are expected power outages, flash flooding and such things predicted.”
Driscoll didn’t seem all that worried, either. Then again, she’s already seen a lot — diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a baby, doctors at one time said she would likely not live long enough to complete elementary school. But Driscoll made it through high school and some college before her disease became unmanageable.
After waiting desperately for years, Driscoll received a double lung transplant four years ago at Duke University. These days, she has to return to the hospital every three months for treatment. On this most recent trip, a problem with “donor specific antibodies” was discovered so she was admitted to the hospital just in time for Florence.
“I’m towards the end of my treatments now,” Driscoll said. “I was supposed to be discharged from the hospital on Saturday, but it looks more like Monday due to the hurricane. And I will have to wait for flights to start running again, before I can return home.”
By 8 p.m. Thursday, Florence was said to be centered roughly 100 miles east-southeast of Wilmington, N.C., and 155 miles east of Myrtle Beach, S.C. For some Mainers in its path, waiting out a hurricane was a new experience. For others, though, it was a familiar exercise in preparation and anticipation.
Anna Verrill, formerly of Lewiston-Auburn, now living in the Charleston, S.C., area
Verrill moved away from Maine in 2008. She lived for a time in the Cayman Islands, so she knows a thing or two about storms. On Thursday, she was awaiting Hurricane Florence with her two Yorkies at her home on Johns Island.
Around dinnertime, Verrill was experiencing the classic lull before the storm.
“It’s eerily quiet — especially nature-wise,”Verrill said. “I saw a few birds this morning and afternoon, but it’s not as busy at it normally is. In my neighborhood I’d say it’s a 50/50 in terms of people who seem like they’ve left and who is choosing to stay. Half the homes have the storm shutters up.
“I am really worried about our neighbors to the north in northern coastal South Carolina and North Carolina,” Verrill said. “A lot of people on Facebook have discussed the potential for thieves to loot empty properties, so for those evacuating to not announce doing so on social media. For those staying, people are enjoying the businesses that are open and throwing hurricane parties. I’m busy tele-working as much as I can before I potentially lose power/internet. There are a few business still open on the island so I may be meeting up with a couple friends tonight before being housebound for the rest of the weekweekend. Don’t get me wrong, I am taking this very seriously. I have supplies, I have plans to shelter in place, etc. Overall, I felt better about staying are riding it out given today’s forecast, than to evacuate inland where the rainfall and flooding is projected to be just as bad if not worse. I know my home does not flood.”
Kylie Ferland, from Lewiston, living in Greensboro, N.C., since 2015
“I can tell you that some people are panicking and others are prepping and hunkering down,” Ferland said at about 9:30 p.m. “I know people who live near the lakes are being told to be cautious and prepare to evacuate if the lakes reach flood stage, so there is one emergency shelter open here.
“When you go into the stores, you can see the effects of people preparing. Grocery stores are packed and people are moving quickly to get what they need and go back home. There is no bread, peanut butter, water, or juice. Batteries have been picked through and essentials like flashlights and candles are gone.
“Because I grew up in Maine,” Ferland said, “and was alive during the ice storm as well as many snowstorms, I have prepared to the best of my ability and have a plan in place to keep family in Maine, New Hampshire, and Florida aware of my safety. Knowing the path of the storm, and that it is no longer a Category 4 has helped to ease the tension and many people are looking to the two potential storms following this one. Many people are also checking on the elderly and assisting them in preparations. You also see a community coming together as there was a tornado back in April that destroyed one whole area, so many people are assisting those that are still dealing with those effects.”
Stephanie Danico, originally from Norway, now living in Summerville, S.C.
A nursing student living and studying near Charleston, Danico said Thursday that things seemed much more grim earlier in the week when it was feared that Hurricane Florence might make a sharp, southward turn.
“We had plans to evacuate to Georgia,” Danico said Thursday. “We had a hotel room rented and everything. But as of this morning, we watched the news and it wasn’t making that south turn. We decided to stay. We’re not in an area that floods and that’s what they’re worried about more than anything.”
Danico said her friends and family back in Norway have been calling all week with worry about her. But as of late Thursday afternoon, things were mostly calm in Summerville.
“It’s getting cloudy. The wind’s picking up a little bit. You can tell something’s coming,” Danico said. “Right now, it’s 83 degrees and a little bit cloudy. It’s actually pretty beautiful out.”
Renae Whitney, formerly of Farmington, now living west of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“We have prepared as much as we can for Florence and have a backup plan as needed,” Whitney said Thursday. “I see the overall mood around the area is uneasy. I have horses and cows and they are fidgety right now — they definitely know. The people are slightly nervous — of course, milk is gone, as is bread at local Walmart.
By 4 p.m., the full force of Florence was still a ways off.
“We have slight winds at the moment, but they are gradually picking up,” Whitney said. “Cloudy rains are supposed to start around 8 p.m.”
Sierra Higgins, formerly of Auburn, now living in Charlotte, N.C.
A nanny, Higgins hasn’t even been in North Carolina a year and she’s already experiencing a hurricane. She was riding it out Thursday at her home.
“I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in December 2017 and I am so nervous for this hurricane!” Higgins said. “Everyone keeps saying it’s just going to rain but still nerve-wracking!”
Erica Brochu, former of Lewiston, now living in Charleston, S.C.
Brochu moved to South Carolina in 2015 while attending college. Now graduated, she works for the Carolina Stingrays hockey team. On Thursday, like millions of others, she was watching the sky.
“Nothing but clouds and a little bit of rain here and there,” Brochu said at about dinnertime. ‘My fiancé and I decided to stay and ride out the storm in our apartment located 20 miles from the coast. Most stores/restaurants in the area are closed — even all the Walmarts! I haven’t been at work since Monday and we don’t expect to be back until Monday-Tuesday.”
Frances Stevens, formerly of Bridgton and Turner, now in Wilmington, N.C.
Stevens moved to Wilmington three years ago and took a job as innkeeper at Stemmerman’s Inn in the downtown. On Thursday night, she was riding out the storm with the inn owner.
“I’ve talked to a couple people,” Stevens said. “No one seems to be overly concerned. People staying have been through a few of these storms.”
Abi Hodgson, formerly of Lewiston, now living in Surf City, North Carolina
On Tuesday, Hodgson left for Georgia with her two youngest children while her husband and oldest son went to Raleigh, N.C. Abi said at about 9 p.m. Thursday that she’d heard things were getting interesting back home.
“In Surf City water has started to flood the roads and lower levels of homes,” she said. “Most are on stilts, but with the tide coming in it will be reaching to the first floor in no time.”
Michelle McTavish, formerly of Portland, now in Charleston, S.C.
McTavish is no stranger to hurricanes. After leaving Maine for the Carolinas in 2000, she’s been in the path of a fair share of them. But don’t think that familiarity with storms makes this former Mainer complacent.
With her boyfriend away in Missouri this week. McTavish on Thursday was involved in a fury of preparation as Hurricane Florence bore down.
“Being confident in my hurricane experiences — Florence being my sixth major storm — my brain went into vortex mode and I started calling for the purchase and installation of a sturdy towing package,” McTavish said Thursday afternoon.
“About $480 dollars later, I was set up to tow a tractor-trailer if necessary. Upon surveillance of the cluster I call the 6-by-8 work trailer, my brain started hurting. My situation was such: Do I take the trailer to a storage facility and rent out a unit and empty it out there? Do I empty its contents into the kitchen and reload with my preps or do I rent out a U-haul? I ended up at a utility trailer sales shop and purchased a brand-new 5-by-8 unit. $2004 dollars later, I now own a sweet little trailer that I can turn into a camper/storage piece. Mind you, I have no experience in towing anything but a backpack.”
The hurricane was downgraded to a Category 2 on Thursday, but with tides expected to be dangerously high, Gov. Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal areas.
“Frantically, I looked up to see if I was in the zone,” McTavish said. “Thankfully no. I am on the edge. There is a sense of relief that all I will get here is 15 inches of rain and tropical winds compared to having to pack up three large dogs and two cats in Kia Sorento towing a fancy-pants trailer loaded up with my canned and dehydrated food that I have been working on for the past few years. I feel very confident that all my experiences have proven me a true and ready survivalist.”