Hurricane - stay or go?

Millions of people in the path of Hurricane Florence are frantically preparing for a monster storm that's anticipated to make landfall sometime early Saturday morning. Residents in states from Virginia to Georgia — especially those who live in flood-prone areas or on the coast — must decide whether to stay or go.

For some, like the Richards family in Virginia, the choice was easy. They have a month-old newborn, and they're headed to Michigan. For others, like Chris Pennington in South Carolina, the choice was less clear. So he decided to board his home's windows Wednesday, regardless.

Chris Pennington was boarding up the windows of his Myrtle Beach house late Wednesday morning after seeing the latest National Hurricane Center forecast bringing Florence inland nearly over his home about a half-mile (.8 kilometre) from the ocean.

He planned to stay before and was still leaning that way, but said he will be checking the weather keenly for the next 24 hours.

"I have until Thursday afternoon to leave, I think," Pennington said. "In 12 or 18 hours, they may be saying different things all over again."

Pennington said there are two big draws to staying: His wife can be available to help if needed at the local animal hospital where she works and he doesn't have to wait to return home inside the evacuation zone.

Hours before a mandatory evacuation took effect, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, resident Phoebe Tesh paused between loading her car to have a glass of wine on the steps of the house where she and her husband rent an apartment.

"We just love it down here so much we want to spend as time as we can," she said.

Tesh, who works in IT for UNC-Wilmington, said she and her husband have been making trips back and forth to carry valuables to her parents' house on the mainland in Wilmington, where they are going to ride out the storm.

"We started out with anything that cost over $200. Now we're down to anything over $30," she said, waving toward an SUV crammed with plastic bins and various items, including a block of chef's knives. "Next time we need a box truck."

She said she and her husband, a professor at UNC-W, loved the beach so much they sold a house on the mainland to be full-time renters since 2013.

Chris and Nicole Roland arrived for a week of vacation at North Myrtle Beach on Sunday. By Monday, a mandatory evacuation was ordered. But they looked at the forecast and decided it was safe to stay until after dark Wednesday as long as they boarded up their uncle's condominium.

They have been rewarded with the rarest of luxuries on South Carolina's most popular beaches — solitude.

"It's been really nice," Nicole Roland said. "Also, a little creepy. You feel like you should have already left."

The Grand Strand around them resembled a ghost town. Only one person could be seen in the wide expanse of beach typically packed with people well into September. Tourism officials estimate 18 million people visit the area each year. On Wednesday, all those restaurants, beach wear shops and mini golf courses were closed.

Chris Roland planned to leave around midnight Wednesday to go back to Chillicothe, Ohio.

"I think we have time to lay out a little longer," he said.

Forecasters said the heavy rains and winds should hold off until Thursday afternoon.

Looking at a fleet of utility trucks staged at a parking lot near Charlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday, retired utility worker Paul Anderson confessed that helping out with recovery efforts from Hurricane Florence was a rush. He admits the pay is good, but there's another factor that moves him.

"It's adrenaline," said Anderson, 59, of Lake City, Florida. "As soon as I get the call to go to work, I'm a changed man. My wife will tell you that. It makes you feel good to go help people. Plus, you get paid."

Anderson didn't hesitate when he was asked to work, gathering people from Florida and Alabama to head to the Wilmington, North Carolina, area. At least two dozen trucks were parked near the speedway, and some workers were gathered at a trailer loading the truck with various pieces of equipment.

"When (my boss) asked me if I'd go down to the coast, I said yeah. And he said 'You know what you're getting into, don't you?' and I said, 'That's where I want to be. I want to be right in the middle of it.'"

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