Jeffrey Port said he had reported the damage to the dilapidated A+ Cuts barber shop on Lejeune Boulevard, whose glass door was smashed in and whose insides were littered with debris. But since neither he nor the authorities knew who the owner was, there was little to be done. Port’s own store, two doors down, was also in bad shape.
Old Town Tailors, which Port had been operating since 1976, was severely battered by the storm. The wind, which had blindsided Port by approaching from the north, peeled off parts of the roof and dumped water on his collection of antiques and tailored military outfits — the product he has sold to everyone from enlisted men to decorated generals for generations.
Port was inside when the storm hit.
“The whole roof started rumbling and shaking and all of a sudden you heard rrrruuuaaarrrgghh and bububububub,” Port said. “I put on my old military helmet in case anything collapsed on me and went and saved my customers’ stuff.”
Port, like many of those displaced by the antics of Hurricane Florence, had relocated to a shelter. He didn’t know how his house was doing, he said, because he couldn’t get there.
“It’s 12 and a half miles out down 53 and there’s no way through the water,” Port said. “And if I need to check on this stuff, because this is how I make my living, I have to be here for it.”
Port’s shelter happened to be on base at Camp Lejeune. Others, such as Swansboro High School (SHS) and Jacksonville Commons Middle School (JCMS), were provided by the county.
William Sparrow, a Jones County teacher, arrived at SHS on Friday afternoon. After fending off the weather any way he could to protect the two-story, two-bath townhouse he had spent eight and a half years living in, Sparrow gave in.
“My concern is just having some place to stay,” Sparrow said.
When the county announced it was re-activating the shelters, there were already school staff stationed at SHS to make the transition easier. Principal Helen Gross, Cafeteria Manager Nicole Glowner and PE Teacher Kim Miller were among about 20 people who remained at the school during the storm for upkeep.
According to Gross, they were told that SHS would open as a shelter after the storm. The rain was still battering the county, however, on Friday.
“We were ready well in advance,” Gross said. “I wasn’t sure when we were going to get the call to open.”
Although they had begun welcoming people to set up cot in their hallways, the SHS staff had problems with the ceiling in their auditorium lobby coming down in places.
“We’ve been sweeping up water and putting buckets out and things like that,” Gross said, “Just trying to save as many of the county resources as possible.”
For Sparrow, the damage was much less sustainable. The shingles in his house were blown off rather quickly, he said. He woke up to leaking in his home on Saturday that got progressively worse throughout the day.
“My town house is in the middle of the street. I was taking direct hit after direct hit after direct hit,” he said.
White Oak High School, although not a shelter itself, was used as a temporary staging location for evacuations from Piney Green. Thirty people were brought to shelters from the school on Saturday afternoon by Marines in seven-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacements (MTVRs).
The Marines were brought in for a Defense Service to Civil Authorities mission, according to Nat Fahy, director of public information at Camp Lejeune.
“The county has to have exceeded its capacity to help and made the request of the Marines,” Fahey explained, for the MTVR assistance to arrive.
One of the people aboard was Harold Lee Brown Jr., who had packed everything he could into his car and left his drowning house earlier in the day. Brown said he was told he and other residents of that area would remain at the shelter at Jacksonville Commons Middle School at least until Monday.
His family, Brown said, was safe at their home in Hubert. But his house was likely going to see a lot of damage. Some of his neighbors were on the MTVR with him, others were Marines and were stationed on base.
Brown said his main concern was his job, which was in Wilmington, and he would probably go to live with his family in Hubert after the storm. When asked what he would want more than anything after his experience, Brown said he didn’t need anything.
“I got God,” he said. “God is good.”
From the ceiling of the Old Town Tailors back room, the sky was visible. The sink was on the verge of falling off and Port said he was concerned with water then flowing in from that source as well. He had not turned on the electricity since coming back to the store, afraid that he would cause a fire and burn the building down. He estimated the cost of rebuilding his shop to be at least $6,000.
Port has been leasing the building for 42 years.
Florence had struck Old Town Tailors at an unfortunate time, according to Port, as the Marine Corps ball time is the most profitable time of the year for the business. If the building isn’t fixed, he said, he and his assistant will have to find a job.
“I still got expenses and bills to pay, and just because I no longer have an income, doesn’t mean the bills won’t keep rolling in,” Port said. “So I’m pretty screwed, you know.”
But what Port seemed most worried about was the family keepsakes — including a 200 year old Bible, photographs of his great great grandparents, cutting books and a bronze armadillo — and the history of helping everybody who was in service for the last 40 years.
“They’ve been coming here and now their kids and their grandkids come here,” Port said. “And now it might be over.”