Students Share Experiences of Florence

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami and Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Team South wait to be picked up by their rescue team after completing Hurricane Florence search and rescue operations in Brunswick County Sept. 16, 2018. Image by Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Lilburn. United States, 2018.

Members of Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Miami and Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Team South wait to be picked up by their rescue team after completing Hurricane Florence search and rescue operations in Brunswick County Sept. 16, 2018. Image by Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Lilburn. United States, 2018.

The following is a series of essays by students at Brunswick Early College High School in Bolivia on their personal experiences during Hurricane Florence in 2018 and their perceptions of climate change. This is part of a series for the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative. For more information, go to

A State of Helplessness

By Daniel Van Skiver

Hurricane Florence truly put the “disaster” in natural disaster when it tore through in 2018. Many felt the destruction and were left with nowhere to turn after their homes were ripped apart or flooded. I am one of these people.

Daniel Van Skiver. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

Daniel Van Skiver. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

Florence left me in a state of helplessness and, being one of the many people in Brunswick County with financial problems, there was no way out. My home was left in an almost unlivable state, my bed was soaked through from a hole in my bedroom roof, and the problem did not stop with the passing of the hurricane. The water damage brought infestations of bugs and rotted away other parts of the house that had been untouched. If I had not been able to stay with my brother I would have most likely been out on the streets, a living arrangement that would last the next 7 months as me and my dad looked for a house.

This kind of damage is tragic, but it seems to be more common with every year. As a coastal area this kind of water damage occurs almost every year during hurricane season and displaces more and more people who cannot afford that kind of a loss. The storms seem to get worse by the year as temperatures globally continue to become more unstable and the environment gets mistreated and ignored. These disasters may be rough, and I would know firsthand, but they might only be a small part in a larger-scale issue that not enough people are concerned with.

Climate change is a very real and very dangerous threat, and not only due to hurricanes. With rising global temperatures comes droughts and extreme heat waves and rising sea levels. For agricultural-based areas, this means an endangerment of an entire way of life. Crops will shrivel and die, leading to more poverty and less preparedness for the next storm season. Furthermore, rising sea levels will lead to worse flooding than we have ever seen before. These floods do not only hurt us, but our wildlife as well. As water washes onto shore and destroys more areas, it also contaminates our water supplies. This hurts the plants and animals that make our community so beautiful and only worsens the effects of climate change.

Florence took my house away, just as many storms have done to many people before, but if we don’t act to undo our part in these worsening disasters then we might end up losing entire communities.

A Life-Changing Event

By Bella Digiacomo

Webster’s definition of a hurricane is, “a tropical cyclone with winds of 74 mph or greater that is usually accompanied by rain, thunder and lightning and that sometimes moves into temperate latitudes.” I believe this is correct, but does not include any of the emotions people feel during a hurricane, or details about the effects and damages of a hurricane.

Bella Digiacomo. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

Bella Digiacomo. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

Hurricane Florence was a life-changing event that really opened my eyes toward reality. Florence, although devastating has taught me many life lessons, it showed me the good and the bad of situations. How did one event cause a whole chain reaction in my life? In sum, it all started when my Mom had called a family meeting deciding if we should evacuate or stay put, the vote came to an even split. We ended up evacuating to Winston-Salem where it was so peaceful, it was as if no one knew there was a hurricane. Seeing how peaceful Winston-Salem was, we made plans with our family that was going to get hit by Florence to meet up at our hotel. We all met up for dinner at Five Guys, and honestly it was such a great way to end a stressful day. After a few days of stressing and exploring Winston-Salem, mom decided to finally go back home, but once we got there we realized it was not such a great idea.

Our whole street was flooded with muddy water, it was up to my aunt’s hips, so around 5 feet of water, and it was only going to rise over time. After continuous warnings to not drive through the muddy water, mom thought she could do it, but halfway there the car began to sink and water began to rise. My siblings rapidly grabbed their life jackets as my grandpa began to jump out of the window to push the car out, he tried but didn’t succeed until our neighbors walked into the water to help.

The engine gave out so the only thing mom could do was steer the wheels to face straight ahead. The struggle continued after we got out. People were crying about such little things, everyone was so emotional. The next mission was to get out of our house due to the muddy water still rising, luckily our grandmother lived down the road at a higher platform, so the water would take longer to reach us. Days later, the whole neighborhood was evacuated, people were standing on the roofs of their homes to avoid the water from getting to them. We all had to squeeze into small trucks, and boats to get passed the flooded highway, but once we finally got settled in and it all ended, we were forced to fix our homes and sell them. This should have taken about a year, but with everyone’s help it only took months. This taught me that sometimes the people you would think would be there for you won’t be there in your most desperate times. It also showed people come together in a state of emergency and will try to help in any way.

Climate change was such a large factor in this hurricane, and according to Science Daily, “They predicted Hurricane Florence would be slightly more intense for a longer portion of the forecast period, rainfall amounts over the Carolinas would be increased by 50 percent due to climate change and warmer water temperatures, and the hurricane would be approximately 80 kilometers larger due to the effect of climate change on the large-scale environment around the storm.”

Climate change made an increase in flooding, and instead of just wind damage it became water damage as well. If climate change continues in the future, a normal rainy day could become another flood warning and hurricanes would be a constant unavoidable loop.

Still Feeling the Effects

By Lindsey Clark 

In the late summer of 2018, Hurricane Florence ripped through the Carolinas and devastated many homes, including my own.

There was 7 feet of water on the inside and 14 feet of water on the outside.

Lindsey Clark. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

Lindsey Clark. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

It has almost been a year and a half since it has happened, and we still feel the effects of it today. It hurt each part of the family differently and was so heartbreaking. We lost all of our old family photos, clothes and our home. It was difficult to build back up again and to try to get back on our feet. We felt stuck and felt like we had nowhere to go and did not know where to turn.

You really do not realize how much you have until it is taken away from you. Thankfully a family friend allowed us to stay at their house until we got back on our feet, which took months. It was crazy to see the people taking advantage of the ones that were without homes; because while we were searching for houses to rent, the prices were extremely outrageous. Even though some were taking advantage of others, there were many who donated and helped out ones who lost their homes.

My sister school, Bolivia Elementary set up these stations for people to go into the school and get cleaning supplies, food and clothes and it really helped us out. It was just amazing for them to do that! It is very nerve racking for me when there is a bad storm or another hurricane because I always think that there is going to be some freak accident where my house gets damaged again and we will have to start all over again. On top of that, my dad is in law enforcement — so when there is a storm he has to stay and wait it out with the rest of his team. That is scary because he is out in horrible conditions and something could happen.

In these past years I have been able to see a difference in the amount and strength of the hurricanes. They are happening more and more, and they are becoming more powerful due to the rising temperature of the ocean due to climate change. They are coming in one after the other, causing major damage to our infrastructure and it cost so much to fix these issues. During Hurricane Florence, the rain washed out many of our roads, and Highway 17 still has damage to it. There are still roads that we cannot go through because they are so damaged.

We need to do something about this before it is truly too late, because it is only going to get worse from here. This is especially important to people who live on the coast because it is our way of life and hurricanes disrupt that. Hurricanes cause erosion of the beaches which is not good for the sea life as well. We need to take care of what we have before it is gone.

Florence Shook Me Mentally

By Corban Cardenas

In August through September 2018 came catastrophic Hurricane Florence. The hurricane caused over 23 billion dollars in damage with a little over 50 fatalities. The hurricane flooded many parts of the Carolinas including a town in North Carolina, Leland. This was where I was when the major flooding and strong winds were taking effect. Florence not only completely destroyed my first home in North Carolina but it also shook me mentally.

Corban Cardenas. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

Corban Cardenas. Image by Coastal Review Online. United States, undated.

Florence poured into a small community called Stoney Creek and with the strong winds combined with the powerful rain, it destroyed the septic tank in the community and flooded the community with a mixture of sewage and rainwater. Over the course of five days, through my bedroom window I watched as Florence tortured my mind by slowly filling the neighborhood with water. It started as puddle to lake-deep water that drifted my car off.

After the water, the power had finally gone out when we ran out of gas for the generator, my family decided to leave to my grandma’s house a couple streets down. Overnight, out of curiosity, I left to check on the house and soon found myself staring at my house completely underwater. This destroyed me because this was my first house in North Carolina, so many memories were formed and saved here. All the Christmases and birthdays now gone in 24 hours. My mission was to keep my family happy and smiling so I did everything in my power to make them laugh, from filming dumb videos to doing mini stand up. My mother however did not like this and we would argue because she saw me as heartless for not showing any remorse for what was reality. I still pushed through the pain and kept my reasons to myself. I stuffed all the sadness and confusion down and continued my mission to make them happy. After one week and a half of missions to spark smiles and in return receiving arguments, the water was completely gone. I could finally stop thinking about how the house could be and actually find out myself.

I ran to my street only to find myself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland; cars flipped in the street, broken windows and torn walls, papers flying everywhere. While walking through the silence, I stumbled across a notebook. The notebook was mine, the book contained all the songs I have ever written. It was drenched and torn up. This shattered my heart, this notebook had years of memories, now gone. I kept it and searched for my house.

I found my home, the front door was wide open, the fridge was in the living room. Picture frames shattered on the floor and tables flipped. Luckily, the water did not reach the upper floor, but the first floor was destroyed. I went upstairs and thought to myself about what had happened and everything I saw and took in. I thought to myself, everything and anything will come to an end eventually. The smiles I was creating on my little sisters faces had a beginning and an end. I was yelled at and argued with my mother who I worked hardest to make happy. Those arguments came to an end. A building that I called home, came to an end. I tried so hard to keep the smiles alive, that when they fell to a frown it hurt worse. The more arguments I tried to end quicker the more took place. Finally, the home I kept telling myself would be okay, was demolished from the inside.

I realized that the most important thing to understand in life is that you should not go through so much pain to keep things alive before the end, you should appreciate and enjoy every moment while it is still alive. The notebook served as a realization that memories are a past and not present. I should work on the present and enjoy every moment. Ever since Florence, I have been enjoying every moment with everyone and everything. I have been writing, producing, and helping people produce music. Florence had such an impact on my mentality, I have changed how I view the world and how I should live my life. Life is short, time is fast, there is no replay or rewind. Enjoy every moment as it comes.