Those seeking shelter share their stories

Published 6:58 pm Wednesday, September 12, 2018

As Beaufort County’s emergency shelter opened its doors at noon on Wednesday, a crowd of more than 20 people gathered to find space inside the gymnasium at Washington High School. That number steadily grew throughout the afternoon, as more cars arrived and buses brought evacuees from all corners of the county.

Young and old, each came seeking shelter from Hurricane Florence, bringing with them unique stories and reasons for leaving their homes.


On a bench outside of the gymnasium, Belhaven resident Deacon Donnell Clark and second-year Beaufort County Schools bus driver James Brown sat catching up greeting those seeking shelter at the High School.

Deacon Darnell Clark rode the bus from Belhaven

“We just took heed to the calling,” Clark said. “We weren’t going to take any chances. I was going to stay, but I was listening to the news this morning and they were were talking about the wind and rain and I said, ‘no way.’ I told my wife, ‘we better get out of here.’”

Clark and his wife rode to WHS on the 2 p.m. bus from Belhaven, one of eight buses bringing people to the shelter on Wednesday afternoon. Brown was one of the BCS drivers assisting with the effort, and was preparing around 4 p.m. to drive one of three buses bound for the inland shelter in Louisburg.

“They called me this morning about driving to Louisburg,” Brown said. “This is my first time coming out here to do this.”

PASSENGER AND DRIVER: Belhaven resident Deacon Donnell Clark and evacuation bus driver James Brown spent part of the afternoon catching up outside of the emergency shelter at Washington High School. Clark and his wife came to Washington one of eight buses offering transportation to the shelter on Wednesday afternoon. Brown was scheduled to drive one of three buses to a shelter in Louisburg yesterday afternoon. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)


For Fred and Cathy Belanger, the decision to seek shelter at WHS was driven by the wind. Among the first group of people to arrive at the shelter on Wednesday, the two live just outside of Washington in a doublewide mobile home and decided that seeking shelter was better than taking a chance on their home withstanding hurricane force winds.

“The wind is what scares me,” Cathy said. “We came early because we though it might get booked up.”

Throughout the storm, the two plan to remain at the shelter, checking in with Beaufort County Sheriff’s Deputies on road conditions in the surrounding area.

“There will be so much flooding, there’s some low areas leaving here to go to our house,” Fred added. “We’ll have to wait and see what the road shape is in.”

For Teresa Watson and her fiancé, with three kids in the household, similar reasons drove the family to the shelter. Their house sits on a wide-open plot of farmland towards Belhaven. With nothing to block the wind from hitting their home, they decided to seek shelter at WHS.

“I’m obviously responsible for more lives than just my own,” Watson said. “I’m not stressing too bad now that I’m around other people and now that we’re in the shelter. It’s a little tight with the space. I stayed here for Irene and we stayed in little side hallways, but it was a little different then. It’s still nice to provide a place to go like this.”


For a pair of families from the Southside of the river, multiple generations came to the shelter together. Mike and Kim Long, their 4-year-old daughter Mia and Kim’s father Richard Pollard will be sheltered together. Living near Whichard’s Beach, the four came to Washington concerned about the storm surge and potential flooding in their neighborhood.

“There’s one way in and one way out,” Kim said. “I always went to my grandparent’s when I was little.”

For her, this is the fist time taking shelter ahead of a storm. Mike, on the other hand, remembers being in a shelter when he was very young. Having worked with utilities, he says that he knows how bad this can be. With his eldest daughter lives in Smithfield, the Long family is almost all together.

“They live in a trailer and I told them they need to get out,” Mike said.

TOGETHER: Antonio O’Neal, Rasheen Gatlin, Ra’kiyah Gatlin and Maria Robinson came to the shelter Wednesday under the care of their grandparents. The four said they were glad to be together.

Coming to the shelter from Aurora with their grandparents, siblings and cousins Ra’kiyah Gatlin, Rasheen Gatlin, Antonio O’Neal and Maria Robinson were all nervous about the storm, but glad to be together. While some of the kids had taken shelter during previous storms, for others, it was the first time.

“I’m a little nervous,” Robinson said.