A part-time poet, a homeless truck driver and a mom and her kids running from the storm — all were among the residents Sunday at a Red Cross shelter set up inside West Mecklenburg High School.
With Hurricane Florence still assaulting Charlotte, the school’s gym had been turned into what one of the temporary neighbors called a “safe haven” from the relentless rain outside.
Statewide, about 20,000 North Carolinians have taken refuge in a shelter, which offer a cot to sleep on and three hot meals a day.
Marion Shepherd, 53, had checked in to the shelter — a first for him — on Saturday night along with his daughter, LaShanna, 30, and his grandson, Antione Rivers, 8.
“By my house (off Brookshire Boulevard), I have a lot of trees, and I didn’t feel safe staying at home,” said Shepherd, a retired electrician and now an Uber driver whose memories of Hurricane Hugo’s punch convinced him to take Florence seriously.
While his daughter slept on a Red Cross cot and his grandson tossed a football and watched cartoons with a new friend, Shepherd found a semi-comfortable spot in the bleachers and spent his Sunday writing a poem.
He’s calling it “Hurricane Florence.”
“For over a year I wasn’t able to watch television,” it begins.
“So everyday seemed to be the same.
Then one day my daughter told me a hurricane was coming our way,
And Florence was her name.”
It ends with a line about people who want to stay, then:
“But I have seen the destruction of these storms,
“And I know to leave and get out of their way.”
Down on the gym floor, Jesse James Bristow, 60, was trying to get some shut-eye, his head resting on balled up Red Cross blankets.
These days, his only home is whatever tractor-trailer truck he’s driving. And as Hurricane Florence landed in North Carolina, the Charlotte native was between truck assignments.
“My money was depleted and I had nowhere to go” he said.
So a friend who drives a cab dropped him off at the Red Cross shelter, at no cost. “The storm was coming, so I figured it was a safe haven.”
On adjacent cots were Auriel Tinsley and her son, Colin, 3.
She and her kids — nearby were Carter, 5, and Caleb, 1 — hail from Hope Mill near Fayetteville. And on Thursday, amid all the dire headlines about Hurricane Florence, Tinsley scooped up her three small children and got on a Greyhound bus bound for Charlotte.
“I was just running from the storm,” said Tinsley, 26, who works at Food Lion. “I wanted to get farther away (from the hurricane). I was scared.”
She, her children and her grandmother, 66, have been at the Red Cross shelter since Friday morning.
And she plans to stay put for awhile. “I’m just riding a wave,” she said. “We’ll go back when it’s over.