After an hour-long wait outside on a balmy end-of-summer morning, Christian Endreson, 68, picked up the three pieces of plywood he needed to board up his daughter’s home and got in line to pay.
He was not alone. Nearly a hundred people joined him in line for last minute supplies of plywood at The Home Depot in Wilmington, North Carolina, early Wednesday as Hurricane Florence barreled towards the Carolina coast.
The storm weakened to a category 3 hurricane on Wednesday and forecasters expect it to weaken further as it nears the shore, but Florence was still forecast to be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane when it nears the US”.
The system was expected to make landfall early Saturday – a predicted timing that keeps moving back incrementally as the storm chugs slowly across ocean waters.
Having survived Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey in 2012, Endreson is refusing to leave his family’s home now.
“Somebody has to stay behind to protect [our] interests,” he said, referring to the hundred year-old-house he shares with his daughter and son-in-law. “It has weathered many storms and I feel confident, but we’re not arrogant about it either,” he adds.
His five daughters are spread out over the country, nearly all of them having survived the likes of Hurricane Harvey in Galveston, Hurricane Irma in Fort Lauderdale last year and Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, Endreson summarizes.
As Endreson lined up to pay, a Home Depot associate came over the speaker and asked customers to remain calm, not be rude to employees, and not to panic before the store closes late morning. There is plenty of plywood in today, she added, before signing off.
Walmart employee Joseph Smith, 52, said the store went through 60 pallets of water in 30 minutes as residents rushed in for supplies.
“Canned meat, water, and batteries are what people are looking for right now,” Smith said, noting he has had to restock those the most since the start of the week. There’s plenty of bread still, he adds. He’s working the last shift before the store closes in the afternoon. “I don’t pay any attention to the hurricanes,” he added as he unloaded fish sticks into the freezer bin, “I’ve always had to work”.
Meanwhile, down at the nearby coast, Matthew Parr, 34, finished his last surf on Wrightsville Beach.
He’s lived in Wilmington his whole life and is going to hunker down inland at his house.
“North Carolina gets hit a lot,” he said as he loaded his surfboard onto the back of his red pickup truck.
Parr estimated he has lived through five hurricanes in this small beach town. Pointing to a friend in the passenger seat of his vehicle, Parr said he is a property insurance agent who believes he has probably gotten a couple of hundred calls in the last two days as homeowners in the region imagine the potential damage Florence can wreak on their homes and businesses.
Across the street, the Redix clothing store is boarded up with the names of past hurricanes: Bertha, Fran, Matthew and Irene daubed on the wood. “Go home, Flo” a black spray painted sign says on a vacation rental office’s boarded up door down the street.
A mailman drove by, delivering mail to now shuttered homes.
Wrightsville Beach, unlike the town of Wilmington, is under the mandatory evacuation order.