With Florence’s death and destruction came acts of bravery and selflessness
The massive storm’s relentless rains continue to pound parts of the Carolinas, leaving at least eight people dead, wiping out electricity to 1 million customers and trapping residents in flooded homes.
But the wrath of the storm that crashed ashore Friday in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane has been met with equally powerful acts of kindness, mercy and hope.
There have been harrowing rescues, neighbors coming to the aid of neighbors, strangers donating money and opening their homes and numerous other acts of selflessness in the darkest moment.
Here are some of those stories:
‘It takes a special person’
Annazette Riley-Cromartie her husband, three children and dog sought shelter from the storm in the attic of their home in James City, in eastern North Carolina.
Then around midnight Thursday, water started pouring into the brick home.
With water rising steadily, she said they took the children to a room and put them on the top bunk of a bed.
Her husband heard cries for help outside the house. When he went to help, the flood waters were above his chest.
Riley-Cromartie dialed 911. No one came.
Fortunately, the volunteer Civilian Crisis Response Team from Indiana had arrived in North Carolina to help.
Amber Hersel and other team members received a call around 4 a.m. Friday from the local fire department. Families were trapped in James City, about 100 miles northeast of Wilmington and just south of New Bern.
A picture of Hersel carrying Riley-Cromartie’s daughter went viral after the rescue mission.
It was Hersel’s first hurricane.
“As you see the families that you’re helping, you know it’s all worth it,” said.
Said Riley-Cromartie, “It takes a special person to leave their own home and their own family to come all this way to help us.”
‘That’s why I got this thing’
The hulking military transport vehicle was scooped up at a government auction a decade ago.
On Friday, a 47-year-old retired Marine named Jason Weinmann put it to good use in the riverfront city of New Bern near the North Carolina coast.
He pulled 10 people out of flooded neighborhoods and delivered them to a shelter.
“That’s why I got this thing,” he said. “To use in times like this.”
Jennifer Morales, 20, was one of those evacuated, along with her husband and a son who turns 2 next month.
The Morales family had three feet of water in their home. They called for help. It arrived 12 hours later.
“We didn’t know where to go,” Morales said.
In New Bern, rescuers plucked more than 200 people from rising waters by midmorning Friday.
As conditions allowed, swift-water rescue teams from out of state swooped in to assist local crews with evacuations.
A team from Maryland assisted in about 40 rescues in New Bern starting Thursday, member Mitchell Rusland said.
Some 100 people in the city need to be rescued, Mayor Dana Outlaw told CNN on Saturday.
Among the volunteers arriving for them are members of the Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue organization formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The Cajun Navy in New Bern had received more than 500 calls for assistance, according to organizer Clyde Cain.
Taylor Fontenot, the Texas captain of America’s Cajun Navy, told CNN he hadn’t slept since Wednesday morning.
‘We’re all in this life together’
As more than 1 million people faced mandatory evacuation orders as then-Hurricane Florence rumbled toward the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, strangers opened their homes to strangers.
In recent days, Facebook groups such as Hurricane Florence 2018 and Hurricane Florence Lodging For Evacuees have hosted dozens of posts from people and organizations offering shelter to those fleeing storm.
“We’ve fled our share of Hurricanes,” said, Robert Riker, who lives with his family live in Waynesville, North Carolina — in the western part of the state — opened their house to a couple or small family.
“And we know the cost of staying in a hotel and having to eat out can quickly add up at a time when anxiety, fear and uncertainty is high. We just want to offer some relief to someone who has greater worries going on in their life than I do. We’re all in this life together. And we only have each other to rely on.”
The Rikers, their three children and a dog used to live in Jacksonville, Florida. They fled several hurricanes over the years, including Hurricane Matthew.
Turning trampolines into beds
Leah Van Buren Bolton owns a trampoline park called Quantum Leap Trampoline Sports Arena near her home in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Last year, Bolton took in 26 people evacuating from Hurricane Irma. Now, she moved to first fill her house with Florence evacuees. Then she planned to open the trampoline area for up to 70 more people and pets
“We’re human and people need help,” she said. “When people need help, you help them,” she said.
At a hostel and campground on almost 2.5 acres next to the Appalachian Trail and Watauga Lake just outside of Hampton, Tennessee, Jim Gregory is offering lodging to those fleeing the storm.
A former resident of Florida, Gregory knows the costs associated with getting away from the path of danger.
“If I can even help one person or family to be safe during this dangerous storm, I will,” he said.
‘I can’t abandon them’
Christine Meinhold was staying put with her seven rescue dogs.
With then-Hurricane Florence approaching, Meinhold decided to ride out the storm at home just outside Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“I really don’t have the resources to evacuate with seven dogs,” she told CNN on Wednesday.
The seven dogs were rescues, she said. She felt a responsibility to care for them.
“I can’t abandon them,” she said. “My car has over 205,000 miles on it and won’t make it far. I can’t imagine breaking down somewhere and putting them in danger.”
During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Meinhold helped rescue animals from the floodwaters.
After CNN told her story, strangers reached out on Facebook. A crowdfunding campaign was started and they rented her a truck so she could reach her family in Tennessee.
The organizer of the campaign, Palms Springs-based radio host Kate Zenna, said she wouldn’t let the dogs perish.
“I went to rescue dogs alone after Katrina and what I saw will never be forgotten,” she said. “And now I am living with a lot of dogs and always have a plan.”
Zenna said about 16 people across the US donated to help Meinhold. Initially, the group planned to purchase a 2009 Dodge Journey with the help of a generous single $5,200 donation, Zenna said.
When that plan fell through, a U-Haul van was rented.
Pictures shared on Facebook show Meinhold and her dogs on their journey away from Florence’s path.
Big Fluffy Dog Rescue
A Nashville-based pet rescue made a trip to South Carolina to save about 30 dogs and cats from shelters in the storm’s path.
A team from Big Fluffy Dog Rescue drove more than 20 hours to retrieve the animals at a shelter in Pawleys island.
“Luckily, we had some awesome volunteers meet us at our kennel facility to help unload, walk, feed and settle all the fur kids in,” Tiffany Carol Fintel, a Nashville vet technician, told CNN.
Fintel said that Big Fluffy is not equipped for cats, but the founder of the rescue, Jean Harrison, has a “no animal left behind” policy so they picked up kittens, too.
“If there had been pigs or even a duck she would have told me to take them, too,” she said.