Five members of the Lawrence family Apollonia, left, Epiphany, Linda, Alexander and Joseph fled their home in Jacksonville, North Carolina, as Hurricane Florence arrived and came to Lindas childhood home in Fostoria. They planned to return this week and begin the task of cleanup and repairs. (Photo by Leyland Spencer)



FOSTORIA — Linda (Spencer) Lawrence has been through lots of hurricanes in the 13 years she has lived in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

But Hurricane Florence is the first one that has forced her to evacuate her residence and return to her childhood home in Fostoria.

Lawrence is the daughter of Clara Spencer of Fostoria. Lawrence and four of her five children, who range in age from 16 to 21, loaded two vehicles with three changes of clothing, two big dogs, two cats and a rabbit and started their trek north last Wednesday to get out of the path of Hurricane Florence.

They were among the tens of thousands ordered out of communities along North Carolina’s steadily rising rivers.

Her daughter, Chasity, who lives in a second-story apartment, decided to stay behind and ride out the storm.

Although the evacuation was ordered last Tuesday, Lawrence waited until Wednesday to leave to avoid all the traffic.

“The traffic wasn’t too bad when we left, but it was starting to sprinkle a little bit,” said Lawrence, whose husband, Joseph, is a master gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps and is stationed in Bahrain.

Lawrence said schools in Jacksonville are closed this week.

“Three of the high schools, including the one that my three youngest attend, has taken on a lot of damage,” she said.

Damage estimates from Hurricane Florence total $17 billion to $22 billion in lost economic output and property damage, according to economists at Moody’s Analytics. In addition, officials say 37 people have died as a result of Florence, and 27 of those were in North Carolina.

Before leaving her Jacksonville home, Lawrence had to make some tough decisions about what she should bring.

“In the end, because of everything we had to pack, I just grabbed the paperwork on the house and our insurance,” she said, adding that her daughter insisted on bringing the coffee maker and her sons brought their Xbox.

The family stopped one night in West Virginia before completing the journey to Fostoria last Thursday.

Lawrence said neighbors who stayed behind have sent her photographs of her home.

“At first we received photos of just some siding and shutters that had blown off. From the looks of the pictures, everything looked fine,” she said.

But on Sunday, a friend went inside the house to check on it.

“They sent us some pictures back and in my daughter’s bedroom, half of the ceiling had caved in,” she said, adding that her dining room has water damage and a portion of that ceiling looks ready to collapse.

“I don’t think that ceiling is going to last until we get home,” she said.

She said the power in her subdivision has been off since last Wednesday night and now she is concerned about mold.

About 500,000 people are without power, mostly in North Carolina, the Associated Press reports.

Lawrence said that while her home did not get flooded, the area surrounding her subdivision is.

“We can’t even get into our subdivision because the roads are flooded,” she said, so her subdivision is more or less an island.

Although Lawrence knows the damage to her home is minimal compared to others in the path of the storm, she is still anxious to get home and get cleanup and repairs under way.

She said she keeps thinking about what her husband’s parents had to go through in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Big Easy.

“It took them over a year to get their house redone,” she said.

Lawrence plans to head back to Jacksonville this week.

Her family will be heading home to a storm-damaged house that has no power, and Lawrence is preparing herself for what awaits her.

“We’ll probably have to camp downstairs in our living room,” she said, because she is not sure how stable the second story floor is.