Hurricane Irene: The mood at shelters in North Carolina.

News and analysis about the hurricane.
Aug. 28 2011 10:41 AM

Come for the Refuge, Stay for the Eats

Shelter hopping in North Carolina during the height of Irene.

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"As long as I have housing that I carry with me," he says, "why take space from someone who doesn't have anything?"

Myors also has the only visible laptop in the shelter, on which he has spent the morning updating his blog. His home base for many years was Americus, Ga., but he spends most of his time on the worn seat of his bicycle, traveling the country to perform various acts of ministry. A week ago, his plan was to pedal down the Carolina coast as far as Myrtle Beach. Irene interceded, so the Reverend cut inland at Currituck, N.C., rolling into Wilson yesterday afternoon. Like the rest, he helps keep things running. There's always trash to be carried, meals to be served, tables to be swept. This afternoon, there is also the tent to be drained. It's perched on an incline, but there's no such thing as a dry patch of grass this weekend. Will the Reverend consider staying inside tonight?

"Not unless the tent blows away."

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Jennie and Robert Culpepper left Nags Head yesterday at 3 p.m. in their 1990 Chevy S-10. They're natives of the Outer Banks and have weathered many hurricanes there in a house built by Robert's grandfather. (The Culpepper roots go yet deeper: Robert's great-great grandfather is on the 1870 census for Nags Head.) Robert, 50, last evacuated during Gloria in 1985. They're not big on fleeing, so the fact that they're here in Wilson says something.

"We're used to those old-fashioned hard northeasters," Robert says. "It's usually Ocracoke and Hatteras that get it, never us. But we were impressed that the president took the time to tell us we needed to evacuate. It sounded like it'd be worse than Gloria."

Jennie and Robert's co-pilots on the five-hour drive were Sassy, a one-year-old feral cat, and a two-year-old pit bull named T.C. (stands for "Too Cute"). For now, the animals are sitting in kennels under a tarp in the truck.  Winds topping 40 mph haven't prevented Robert from taking the pets out for excursions over the course of the day, though Jennie remains inside nursing a crushed disc, the souvenir from a car accident that fractured her spine a couple of years back. Money, too, is a concern. Robert pulls in $950 a month as a school custodian, plus some $300 every two weeks from moonlighting at Kmart.

"When we rolled out," Robert says, "we had $30 in the pocket and a tank of gas."

Of the few possessions Robert and Jennie packed for their westerly trip, many got soaked when the bed of the pickup flooded under the tarp. (Robert battened things down with his fishing rods, but rain always finds a way.) Sentimental curios remain intact: a photo album, booklets from her grandparents' funeral, letters from his grandmother. ("I loved her handwriting," he says.) Jennie, 51, brought a jewelry box with her mother's things in it. She also brought her most prized possession: an Xbox, to which she became addicted following her back surgery.

Family who stayed behind in Nags Head report no real damage thus far. That will most likely change after Irene passes north, when the wind switch will bring rain water, and the withdrawn water of the sound, back with force onto the western shore of the isthmus. Fifteen-plus feet of flooding is projected. The couple's house is 10 feet above sea level. I'm wondering why the two seem so relaxed.

Jennie looks at Robert. "Really honestly and truly," she says, "we've been married 15 years, and we've never been able to get away, just me and him."

She smiles. "So this is our honeymoon time."

Ted Scheinman has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Paris Review, and elsewhere. His first book of nonfiction will appear in 2014. Follow him on Twitter.

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