Lawanda Jones’ house near Myrtle Beach, S.C., is next to a large, lovely tree. Earlier this week, as Jones listened to the evacuation orders and hurricane warnings piling up, she looked at that tree and thought: what if it falls?
On Friday afternoon, Jones stood outside Conway High School, a Red Cross shelter and, on drier days, home of the Tigers. She and her family have been staying at the shelter since Tuesday and, although it’s crowded and difficult to sleep among strangers, she said she’s glad she evacuated early.
“I had to make two trips. The weight of all of us in the car, we couldn’t make it,” she explains. “If I had [waited] to do that until the storm came, we wouldn’t have had time.”
Across South Carolina on Friday, at least 5,500 people were staying at 59 Red Cross shelters, according to spokesperson Cuthbert Langley. And Florence’s plodding progress means they, and potentially many more, could be stuck sleeping among strangers for days more.
“I have not slept really since I’ve been there,” said Amanda Johns, who evacuated her camper on Tuesday. “I’m tossing and turning. They’re saying it’ll be four days, five days. Could be a week. I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to stay here that long. That’s a long storm.”
Florence is a very large, very slow-moving, very wet storm — the type of tropical cyclone that is made more likely by climate change. Warm ocean water and weak wind currents drive hurricanes to grow large, sucking up moisture and then stalling out over land, dropping it as rain.
For people in Florence’s path, that means a more drawn out and exhausting hurricane experience.
John Smith said police in Myrtle Beach, S.C., told him he needed to leave town on Tuesday. “I biked here all the way. I got here Tuesday morning about 10:30,” he said. Since then, he’s been sleeping on the floor at night and trying to find ways to pass the time each day by helping people carry their things inside.
“People are panicking out there when they see the rain. [People] don’t move until the last minute. It’s not good, but I know they don’t want to be here until they have to.”