WILMINGTON, N.C.—I stepped in a puddle in my parents’ darkened kitchen.
It was time, four days after the eye of Hurricane Florence made landfall in my hometown, to let go of the hope that power was coming back anytime soon.
I had already covered the broken window in my old bedroom with a cut-up garbage bag. I’d hired contractors on my parents’ behalf to remove the oak that fell on the back of the house, as well as the 80-foot pine that had uprooted the front sidewalk as it came down, and now filled the walkway and blocked the front door.
It was time to deal with the refrigerator.
I have covered many storms as a reporter: Floyd, Katrina, Irene, Matthew, Harvey, Irma. The names alone open mental scrapbooks of memories, from the soggy hotel or strangers’ home where I stayed, to the stories we told—or wish we had, to the people who made an impression with their mix of sadness, relief and resilience.
But it is surreal to cover a storm in the town where I grew up. I kept thinking the dateline should read “Memory Lane.”
After 48 hours of wind and rain had kept us watching Florence from the windows, a photographer and I ventured out Saturday to survey the damage. I had driven a few miles around the central part of town when I realized I was taking the same streets in the same order that I had hundreds of times before. It was my junior high school bus route.
In some ways, the same rules applied to this disaster as any other: Be cautious, and don’t do anything dumb. Watch your gas tank, water supply and devices. Send color and quotes as you have them, rather than typing out a story-length note on your phone.
In other ways, this storm has been personal. A friend’s aging aunt is in the hospital after she fell during the night, weakened by days with no air conditioning or real meals.
The other day I pulled through an intersection monitored by cops, including one of my oldest friends, a detective who I knew had been sleeping on his office floor for days.
My parents, most of all, have been a constant reminder of the weight of disaster. They evacuated to my sister Jessica’s house in Raleigh, where they have been safe but stressed.
They used to work during storms—my dad on the street as a traffic engineer, my mom at the shelter as a public health nurse. But they are older now and decided to leave.
My mom wrapped her treasures in towels and took them with her. I was touched by what she chose: her wedding album from 1964, my sisters’ and my baby books, and an oil painting of daffodils by my dad’s late aunt.
My dad has kept his chin up, and stage-managed from Raleigh. He and our tree guy have become text buddies.
As Hurricane Florence hurtles towards the East Coast, we joined a team of U.S. Air Force Reserve Citizen Airmen as they fly into the storm to gather critical data. Photo: Rob Alcaraz/The Wall Street Journal
We are fortunate. My folks didn’t lose their home, their livelihoods or their lives, like too many others did. More than 40 people died, including a mother and her 8-month-old baby when a tree fell on their house. They lived a mile away from my parents.
On Sept. 11, which seems like ages ago, I had the chance to fly into the eye of Florence with the Hurricane Hunters of the U.S. Air Force Reserve. The storm had an eerie beauty from the air, like the villain in a fairy tale. I was terrified—not of flying into it, but of what it would do on the ground.
I am grateful Florence wasn’t worse. There were some bright spots, like when I asked some elementary school kids what they were doing to stay busy, and they showed me their drawings of made-up superheroes. Or when I approached a woman walking a dog to ask for an interview and she said, “I know you! You’re Lisa’s sister!” It was our 7th-grade band director (clearly my sister was better at clarinet than I was at flute).
Cleaning out my parents’ refrigerator turned out to be easier than I expected, though I got some grief from my mom for throwing out too many jams and jellies.
I washed up and left the house to see North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long tour a makeshift barracks for first responders at the old Sears down the street.
It was my job to track down Mr. Long after the tour and ask him about an investigation into his travel between Washington, D.C., and his home in Hickory, N.C.
He nodded politely and said, “Ma’am, I’m totally focused on the people and Florence.”
He walked away before I had the chance to tell him that I was, too.