Rid­ing out Florence only op­tion for poor

Home­less also un­able to heed warn­ings to flee

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Sam DeGrave

KINSTON, N.C. – As Hur­ri­cane Florence churned to­ward the North Carolina coast, Gov. Roy Cooper tripled down on a warn­ing he has been is­su­ing for days: Get out of this storm’s way.

“This mon­ster of a storm is not one to ride out,” Cooper said Wed­nes­day from the steps of the state Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety’s emer­gency man­age­ment stag­ing site in eastern North Carolina.

But in Kinston – a town of nearly 21,000 peo­ple liv­ing 30 miles of west of New Bern, where the Neuse River widens on its way to the Outer Banks – the gov­er­nor’s ur­gent warn­ing went largely un­heeded.

Hav­ing only two years ago lived through Hur­ri­cane Matthew, which dev­as­tated por­tions of the state’s eastern reaches, some Kinston res­i­dents de­cided to stay.

Oth­ers, con­strained by eco­nomic cir­cum­stances, re­mained be­cause they had no choice.

Poverty is an an­chor for many in Kinston, home to some of North Carolina’s most eco­nom­i­cally dis­tressed neigh­bor­hoods de­spite its bud­ding rep­u­ta­tion as a food des­ti­na­tion.

Ben Knight watched Wed­nes­day as a small team of work­ers fas­tened sheets of ply­wood to the win­dows of Chef & the Farmer – a na­tion­ally renowned restau­rant in the heart of down­town that Knight owns with his wife Vi­vian Howard.

Knight said he’d elected to stay be­hind while Howard and their chil­dren headed west, out of Florence’s reach.

“I think a lot more peo­ple have left for this storm, but most peo­ple in this town will stay,” Knight said. “With the me­dian in­come of this town be­ing less than half of the na­tional av­er­age, some peo­ple will have to stay.” “Not an op­tion:” Tony Clower, 39, falls firmly within that camp. The 12year Kinston res­i­dent is home­less. Clower said he thinks oth­ers in Kinston should heed Cooper’s warn­ing, ad-

vice he said he’d fol­low if he could.

“I think peo­ple should lis­ten when he says to leave be­cause this is go­ing to be a bad storm,” Clower said. “Some peo­ple are get­ting out of town, but that’s not an op­tion for me. I have no money, no job, no con­nec­tions.”

Jasper New­born, who runs the city’s only emer­gency home­less shel­ter, said that on any given night, he’ll house about 15 peo­ple, but that “rep­re­sents less than 10 per­cent of the city’s home­less pop­u­la­tion.” The rest sleep on the street or wher­ever else they can find shel­ter, he said.

Nat­u­ral disas­ters, New­born said, most ad­versely im­pact the city’s most vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion: the in­di­gent.

And as Hur­ri­cane Florence looms, he said he’s wor­ried about what will hap­pen to the city’s home­less res­i­dents who de­cide not to seek refuge. Friends of the Home­less, the shel­ter New­born founded in 1990, only has 35 beds, but he said he won’t be turn­ing any­body away dur­ing the storm.

Clower said he planned to weather the storm in a small wooden shed in which a friend was let­ting him live.

Kinston has a 30 per­cent poverty rate, ac­cord­ing to 2015 U.S. Cen­sus data – nearly dou­ble that of North Carolina as a whole.

A 2014 study by the Cen­ter for Ur­ban & Re­gional Stud­ies at UNC Chapel Hill found a Cen­sus tract within Kinston to be the state’s most dis­tressed among ru­ral ar­eas for its poverty rate, per capita in­come and un­em­ploy­ment.

❚ “Where else I got to go?” The bur­den­some eco­nomic im­pact of evac­u­a­tion doesn’t strictly im­pact the home­less.

In east Kinston, not far from one of the city’s sub­si­dized hous­ing de­vel­op­ments, Michael Weath­ing­ton, 53, sat wait­ing for a ride on the porch of his home – a hum­ble abode of white­washed wooden sid­ing be­neath a rust-tinged metal roof.

Weath­ing­ton said he wit­nessed Hur­ri­cane Matthew, and as far as he’s con­cerned he can live through an­other hur­ri­cane, even if Florence is sup­posed to be big­ger and more dan­ger­ous.

But he would strug­gle to leave even if he wanted to.

“I don’t have a car, and my whole fam­ily is here. Where else I got to go?” he said. “I’m just go­ing to ride it out.”

At least two emer­gency shel­ters have opened in or near Kinston to house those who might be dis­placed by the storm.

❚ Dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, im­pacts: Travis Quinn, di­rec­tor of sales for Kinston’s Mother Earth Brew­ing, has lived in Eastern North Carolina his whole life. He grew up in Ke­nansville, a small town about 45 min­utes south of Kinston, where he now lives.

Quinn is no stranger to hur­ri­canes, and while he isn’t evac­u­at­ing, he said he and the brew­ery staff are pre­par­ing for a wal­lop­ing.

“This is not our first hur­ri­cane, and it’s not some­thing that we take lightly. We’ve seen what these storms can do,” he said.

“The threat of an­other large storm com­ing through is re­ally chal­leng­ing for the com­mu­nity as a whole,” Quinn said.

But as Knight pointed out while stand­ing out­side of Chef & the Farmer, some peo­ple and busi­nesses are bet­ter suited to ab­sorb the dam­ag­ing im­pacts of ma­jor storms.

Large farm­ing com­pa­nies can likely roll with Hur­ri­cane Florence’s punches. Fam­ily farm­ers, on the other hand, could be ru­ined if the storm wreaks havoc on their crops, Knight said.

While some con­sider the eco­nomic im­pacts of the storm, there are oth­ers – in some cases liv­ing right down the road – who are sim­ply hop­ing to make it out of the storm alive. Clower is among them.

“I’m re­ally wor­ried about the storm,” he said stand­ing out­side of a con­ve­nience store, where he works odd jobs in ex­change for snacks, such as Hot Pock­ets. “I want to cry. All I can do is put my hands to­gether and ask God to keep me safe.”

❚ Else­where in eastern North Carolina: In the small com­mu­nity of Kelly in Bladen County, roughly 90 miles south­west of Kinston, some have cho­sen not to leave be­cause they, too, don’t have the re­sources, said Charles Russ, the for­mer fire chief who now runs Kelly Gen­eral Store.

Ar­eas nearby flooded heav­ily two years ago dur­ing Matthew, Russ said. Kelly’s less than 15 min­utes from Pender County, where of­fi­cials have called a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion, leav­ing flyers wedged in the cracks of doors.

Russ said he’s wor­ried that “peo­ple aren’t tak­ing this se­ri­ously. I tell peo­ple it’s go­ing to be noth­ing like we’ve seen be­fore.”

But for some, the trip to higher ground is be­yond what they can man­age, he said.

“There was one fam­ily that just moved in here. I asked if they were go­ing some­where.

“She said, ‘We spent all the money we had com­ing here.’ ”

SAM DEGRAVE/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Tony Clower, 39, would like to fol­low the North Carolina gov­er­nor’s ad­vice and evac­u­ate, but he’s home­less.

SAM DEGRAVE/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Busi­nesses in­clud­ing Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina, are boarded up un­til Hur­ri­cane Florence passes.

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