- Business Insider sent two reporters to cover Hurricane Florence in North Carolina.
- After spending 10 hours embedded with a Marine unit, they got stuck in Jacksonville as the flood waters rose around them.
- “It was a really brutal, gruelling experience,” reporter Daniel Brown said of covering the storm.
- Here’s their story.
As Hurricane Florence tore through North Carolina, Business Insider reporters Daniel Brown and Kevin Reilly spent four days reporting from Wilmington and Jacksonville – two of the hardest hit communities. They witnessed rescues while embedded with a Marine unit, escaped rising floodwaters, and saw how disasters can bring out the best aspects of the human spirit.
After spending 10 hours embedded with the Marines on Saturday, driving through over five feet of flood water for hours and documenting high-water rescues, Brown and Reilly were dropped off at their rental Jeep in Jacksonville.
That’s when they quickly realised there was no way out. Jacksonville, a town of about 70,000 people on the banks of North Carolina’s New River, had become an island – completely cut off from surrounding towns – as the downpour from Florence showed no signs of stopping.
“We’re on two hours of sleep and we’d been out for like 22 hours, and by the time we got back out of the embed we got into our car and realised we couldn’t leave and we had no place to stay,” Brown said. “We had no clothes. We hadn’t showered in two days and we were just disgusting and grumpy, and we didn’t have cell service.”
Brown and Reilly attempted to drive back to Wilmington.
“We were driving 50 miles per hour through windy backroads in a downpour,” Brown said. “It was completely dark. There was a curfew going on – there was no one around.”
They drove the rental Jeep through puddles that got deeper and deeper. There were submerged pickup trucks by the side of the road.
“It was this kind of weird, eerie feeling,” Brown continued. “It was scary.”
After being turned back by police officers who were blocking the road, the two reporters found themselves at the last hotel in town. It was fully booked. Even the shelters, which were the only respite from the rapidly rising floods, were full.
The hotel’s owner took pity, and let Brown sleep on the lobby floor with a group of reporting crews from NBC and CNN. Reilly opted for the car. The hotel had power and hot water, but a window had been shattered by the storm, Brown said.
They made it back to Wilmington in the morning, though things there were far from normal. On Sunday a few shops in the flooded downtown area had opened, including a grocery store and a Waffle House. (FEMA actually uses a “Waffle House Index” to track dangerous storms, as the restaurant chain is famous for staying open 24/7 through natural disasters).
The grocery store had no power, and all of the frozen items were damaged.
“It was kind of surreal,” Brown said. “I walked in and there were no lights on. There was just one guy behind the counter with a flashlight, and people were walking through the aisles with lights on their phones looking at dry goods and buying those in cash.”
Gas lines stretched for “hundreds of yards” as people lined up at the few stations that had any in reserve.
But the hardest thing, according to Brown, was the rain.
“The rain never stopped and you were just constantly soaked no matter what you did,” Brown said. “You just kind of became a raisin after a while.”
Brown and Reilly plan to file many more dispatches from the storm.
“It was a really brutal, gruelling experience,” Brown said.
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