1 fam­ily’s dilemma comes down to money


NORTH MYR­TLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Mercedes O’Neill lives just two blocks from the At­lantic Ocean in a zone so im­per­iled by Hur­ri­cane Florence that it has been marked for manda­tory evac­u­a­tion.

But for now, she plans to ride out the hur­ri­cane in her home with her boyfriend, her 6-year-old daugh­ter and two cats, even though the prospect scares her.

O’Neill, who has a son due Sept. 27, thought hard about leav­ing. But be­cause her fam­ily lives pay­check to pay­check, the idea seemed too costly. And she wor­ried about not get­ting home in time to re­turn to her job at a Fam­ily Dol­lar store af­ter the storm passes.

Their dilemma re­flects the limited choices faced by many house­holds in the storm’s path.

First, a fam­ily mem­ber of­fered a ho­tel room 200 miles in­land from her North Myr­tle Beach home in Aiken. Then Florence slowed down, sug­gest­ing that the coast would get even more rain and evac­uees would be forced to stay away longer.

Since they were sur­rounded by help­ful neigh­bors and the storm weak­ened from Cat­e­gory 4 to Cat­e­gory 2, the cou­ple de­cided to board up and hun­ker down.

“I could go. But you can’t go for every storm. Yes, I’m scared. But I would be more scared if we were alone. Neigh­bors help­ing neigh­bors, you know?” she said as her daugh­ter, So­phie, rode her bike out of the drive­way and into the empty street.

Emer­gency shel­ters are avail­able, but O’Neill wor­ried that they might not of­fer enough pri­vacy or take pets. She wor­ried too about her soon-to-ar­rive baby. Would she be safer some­where else? Or would she have to ac­cept lesser med­i­cal care in another town?

Evac­u­at­ing isn’t cheap. The cost of gas, food, lodg­ing and other es­sen­tials adds up quickly. And for many work­ers, fleeing also means be­ing away from the jobs that pro­vide their in­come.

O’Neill got off work a few hours Wed­nes­day be­fore her boyfriend and a neigh­bor fin­ished putting ply­wood on the wi­d­ows. On one win­dow was spray painted “Thank God for Trump.” On the other piece of ply­wood was “God bless the USA.”

If the fore­cast takes a sud­den, dras­tic turn, they still might leave and join the es­ti­mated 300,000-plus peo­ple who had left South Carolina’s coast by Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

The de­ci­sion cuts across eco­nomic classes. About a mile away, Si­mon Ohayon had not de­cided whether to leave his home be­cause he wants to be near his beach­wear store, Kings At the Beach, which sits across the street from an ocean­front park.

“I think we can get 3 or 4 feet of wa­ter up here. And then waves,” Ohayon said. “I put my mer­chan­dise up off the ground, but I don’t know if I want to leave.”

Ohayon said he would look at the fore­casts and leave if Florence looks likely to hit as a Cat­e­gory 3.

Af­ter the sys­tem is gone, O’Neill fig­ures the Fam­ily Dol­lar store will try to re­open as soon as pos­si­ble, and then she can get back to mak­ing money.

“It just takes for­ever to get back in,” said O’Neill’s boyfriend, Kelly John­son.

She plans to keep in touch with her store man­ager and sev­eral neigh­bors wait­ing out the storm. If one of them is in trou­ble, they fig­ure the rest can help.

“I think we all thought about leav­ing. But since we’re to­gether, I think that will make it eas­ier,” she said.

And then there were the cats. Even if she had money and a place to stay, she could hardly bear to leave Klepto (“He al­ways steals the kitty toys”) and Mia (“It’s pro­nounced mee-ya, but stands for MIA be­cause I could never find him”) be­hind.

“Pets are part of our fam­ily, too,” she said.

“I could go. But you can’t go for every storm. Yes, I’m scared. But I would be more scared if we were alone. Neigh­bors help­ing neigh­bors, you know?”

Mercedes O’Neill

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