September began like any other month, but soon took a turn for the worse. It was typical day-to-day business, and we were preparing for an RV trip to attend the RV show in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This show is an annual event for us. We get to look at new model year RVs, visit with friends and business colleagues and we can gauge the current state of the RV industry (which I might add is doing quite well).
Prior to leaving on the trip, the news reported a tropical storm forming in the Atlantic with conditions that could spell trouble for the Eastern Seaboard. Not knowing at the time where the storm would make landfall we continued with our trip planning and did little in the way of preparing our house for potential storm damage. We live about 75 miles inland from Wilmington, North Carolina, and we have a destination camper on a lot across the street from the ocean at North Topsail Beach, North Carolina.
The trip to Hershey was uneventful for the most part. I am still having some back issues from my surgery so we made two stops along the way to spend the night at KOA campgrounds. As we watched the evening news there was more talk about the tropical storm, now dubbed Florence, growing in strength. Forecasters were predicting it could turn into a category four or five hurricane as it gained intensity over warmer water. The storm tracking indicated it could make a direct hit on the North Carolina coastline.
The RV show was barely underway and we were trying to decide whether to go back home, or stay in Pennsylvania where they were experiencing weather concerns of their own. I have written several articles in the past about using your RV as a means of evacuation and shelter during storms. In my articles my recommendation to hurricane victims is to pack the RV with food, water and clothing and head inland whenever there was a possibility you were in the hurricane’s path.
I have experienced numerous hurricanes during my 40 years in North Carolina, so I generally know what to expect. The scary part is the unexpected, like tornadoes and winds in excess of 120 miles per hour. Regardless of how prepared you might think you are conditions can worsen without notice. There are power outages for days on end, along with gas, food and water shortages.
Our neighborhood is surrounded by two lakes with canals running between every street. Outside of the neighborhood we are surrounded by marshlands, streams, creeks and a couple major rivers.
Just two years ago Hurricane Matthew washed roads and bridges out and broke records for flooding in the area. Now, Florence was predicted to cause more damage than Matthew.
While our neighbors started preparing with generators, gasoline, food and water I decided to heed my own advice and stay at the RV show in Hershey. This was a hard decision for me because I like to be there to help and support those in need, but it was a smart decision. Some of our neighbors went to our house and secured the outdoor furniture and anything that could blow away in hundred mile per hour winds. This is when you realize how fortunate you are to own an RV. Not only can we travel the country in our RVs visiting new places and enjoying new adventures, but in a situation like this we can evacuate and stay safe from all the potential dangers.
Hurricane Florence made landfall as predicted, in Wilmington, NC. Adding to the already dire conditions, the storm stalled and areas far and wide endured the wrath of the storm for several days. The county where we live, and the area where our destination camper is located were directly in the storm’s path. We watched from afar, but stayed in contact with our neighbors.
The power was out, local grocery stores had empty shelves, and gas stations were out of gas.
The constant rain soon led to serious flooding, and like Hurricane Matthew local roads and bridges were washed out and our neighbors had no access to the outside world. They had to depend on whatever supplies they managed to get before the storm, and on each other.
The power outage lasted for days, and some houses in the neighborhood were flooded as water breached the lakes and canals. There was more serious flooding in outlying areas and people who ignored mandatory evacuation orders had to be rescued by boats or by air. We stayed in contact with our neighbors and every now and then they gave us updates on our house.
We decided to leave the show a day early and start working our way back south. We called a campground in Charlottesville, Virginia to make a reservation. They told us campsites were quickly filling up with RVs evacuating from the storm, but they managed to reserve a site for us. This would put us about five hours from our home. The plan was to stay at the campground until the rivers crested and roads opened back up allowing a route to get back home. The second night we were at the campground the remnants of Florence passed through Virginia. A tornado touched down in Richmond Virginia. We were fortunate to only get some hard rain, wind, thunder and lightning in the mountains.
The store shelves were empty back home so we asked some of our neighbors what they needed and we went to a local grocery store and stocked up on food. Not knowing when the power would be restored I filled gas cans, and the fresh water holding tank on the RV. We planned to use the generator and stay in the RV until the power was back on.
We stayed at the campground for five days until the river’s crested. The river closest to our house crested at 42-feet, which was 6-feet higher following Hurricane Matthew. Numerous roads were washed out and we had no idea if we could get home, but we decided to try. One of our friends told us to download a GPS navigation App called Waze. The Waze App plans a route to avoid any road closures and gives traffic updates, construction and accident reports in real-time.
Long sections of interstate travel were closed due to flooding as we slowly worked our way closer to home. The only disadvantage to the Waze App was it didn’t take into consideration the size and weight of the RV. I had my RV GPS turned on and on one occasion received a warning we were traveling on a weight restricted road. We were on small back-country roads and my concern was there might be a small bridge not rated to handle the RV’s weight.
Fortunately, there were no bridges and we traveled the back roads for what seemed like forever. It was a long and stressful trip, but we finally made it safely home.
Our house fared well compared to others. Some had shingles blown off the roofs with ceilings collapsing and others were flooded. The day after we got home our entire community organized a clean-up effort throughout the neighborhood.
Fallen trees were cut up and removed and all the yards and streets were cleaned up as well. By the end of the day you could hardly tell a hurricane went through the neighborhood. But when you venture outside the neighborhood you are quickly reminded that it will take years to get back to normal conditions.
We need to count our blessings, we had our RV for shelter, there was very little damage around our house, and our camper at the beach survived with minimal damage. But these are only material things, forty-one people lost their lives in this storm, while others lost everything they own. There are billions of dollars’ worth of damage and it will take years to recover. We were extremely fortunate and now its time to do what we can to help our community recover.
Mark J. Polk