Florence Topping cradled her sleeping great-grandson, Tyler, in her lap and gazed calmly across the American Red Cross shelter in a church gymnasium in Rocky Mount, N.C., Friday. Nearby, church members entertained her other two great-grandchildren, Ny’Mir and Miricah, with a story and coloring books.
“When they said we ought to evacuate, I thought I shouldn’t stay, just me and these three babies,” said the 73-year-old native of North Carolina’s far eastern shore.
The Red Cross delivered hot meals to Florence and her neighbors after Hurricane Isabel left them without electricity in 2003. But with forecasters touting Hurricane Irene’s disastrous potential, she thought it best to leave her little community of Swan Quarter, protected from the open Atlantic only by frail Okracoke Island.
So Thursday she packed some clothes, bed linens and a few small toys for the children and boarded the school bus sent to evacuate low-lying portions of Hyde County. At the Red Cross shelter, she found a cot for herself and sleeping mats for the children. “They did fall asleep, even with being so excited,” she said gratefully.
The Red Cross is arranging for meals to be brought in for the nearly 60 evacuees; the county health department has nurses on hand.
And when lively Miricah – who will turn three on Sunday – got restless, a shelter resident sitting nearby began playing a game to amuse her.
Despite the unfamiliar surroundings and uncertainty about what she would find when she returns home, Florence sat peacefully, grateful for a safe place to ride out the storm with her precious great-grand babies.