by Leila MACOR
With Hurricane Florence downgraded on Thursday from a Category Four to a Category Two storm, and then once again, around fifty people left the evacuation shelter in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
That was a bad idea, said Avair Vereen, a local nurse who had sought safety in the shelter with her seven children.
“They say if you stay (home), it’s at your own risk,” she said, noting that emergency services personnel said they could not risk their lives rescuing anyone who had disregarded official evacuation notices.
“It is scary. When somebody tells you something like that, it’s my cue to get out. There’s nothing like being in the street knowing that nobody is coming,” she said, rocking her eight-month-old baby in her arms.
The shelter had been set up in a school and was offering temporary refugee from the elements to around 400 people on Thursday, although it had a capacity for up to 1,200 in the popular seaside resort.
“We’re recommending people to stay here. It’s not safe to go back,” said Rebecca Torriani, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
Vereen was taking that recommendation at face value — she and her children live in a mobile home in an open field, with nothing to protect it from the hurricane.
“If we lose the house, oh well, we can get housing. But can’t replace us, so we decided to come here,” said the 39-year-old.
“A lot of people left this morning, because they said it was down to Category Two but a Two can still do a lot of damage,” she said, noting that even in the lower classification, Florence’s winds would be buffeting at 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour).
“I wouldn’t risk it. It can still change. It can go back up,” she said.
– Staying safe –
A few yards down the hallway, huddled in blankets, Tony Winborne echoed her concern about those who decided to leave the shelter.
“I hope they made the right decision. We could be here and it actually turns out not to be that bad, but it is better safe than sorry,” said the 37-year-old tailor.
Meteorologists and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were warning residents not to let their guard down, since, even with lessened wind speeds, Florence could still dump massive amounts of rain and a storm surge of more than nine feet (three meters) on the exposed coastline.
“The storm surge forecast with this storm has not changed,” warned Brock Long, the head of FEMA.
He said the massive rains meant that even areas away from the coast would be affected.
“The infrastructure is going to break,” he said. “The power is going to go out. It could go out for a number of days, it could go out for weeks. It’s very hard to say at this point.”
Even so, many residents of Myrtle Beach proudly recalled how they had weathered a number of storms in the past and were confident they could ride out Florence too.
None more so than Adam Williams, a 38-year-old security guard watching his 17-year-old son surf the first big waves as the storm approached.
“If it was a Category Four and we were going to get a direct hit, yes, we wouldn’t be here. But we’re going to be okay,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse