While Hurricane Irma thrashed across Florida and Georgia, its fleeing residents took shelter in the exits off of Interstate 95 in North Carolina, hunkering down in the small-town safety of Johnston County.
For David and Leslie Pooser of Savannah, Ga., this storm forced their second annual trip to the Four Oaks RV Resort on U.S. 301, where they settled down Saturday with their pair of elderly cats: Snowball and Dingbat.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew pushed them out of their coastal home, where they got trapped behind flood waters over I-95. This year, they bought a trailer for their truck and packed it full of valuable papers and the contents of their freezer.
“He grilled ribs the other night right over there,” said Leslie Pooser, 68, pointing to a spot near other RVs in Four Oaks. “The Acorn Festival was going on Saturday and Sunday.”
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“When they say mandatory evacuation,” said David Pooser, 72, “you don’t have to tell me twice.”
Highway traffic reached parking-lot conditions on the northbound interstate late last week as millions evacuated neighborhoods in the hurricane’s path. Many of those storm refugees settled in North Carolina as the storm tracked west and away from the state.
The Poosers, not knowing which way to flee, made three sets of reservations, including Biloxi, Miss., but settled on Four Oaks because of its cat-friendly lodge rooms. The RV park reported many other Floridians who called but later changed their minds, finding shelter elsewhere.
Nearby in Smithfield, a family of 11 arrived from Florida, having evacuated twice.
On Saturday, Leticia Gomez fled Naples with her three children and her sister’s family. They landed in Madison on the Georgia border, but the storm then pushed them further north to the Red Cross shelter in Smithfield.
“We got scared, and we have kids,” she said of Naples. “Parts of the city are completely flooded, and they have no electricity. There’s palm trees all over the place.”
They brought canned food and blankets, heading north in a pair of SUVs. After arriving Saturday, they learned their house luckily stayed standing.
“Our aunt said everything is OK,” said Liliana Ruiz, 9. “Only a little bit of stuff broken in grandpa’s car.”
With Irma behind them, they waited, watched and gave each other’s hands an extra squeeze, knowing the important things were safe.