Twice in his high school career, 6-foot-6 Kaleb Janness crammed into his family’s Kia Sorento, his three younger siblings and cocker spaniel mix, Cooper, in tow.
His family stocked up on gas and started their long journey. After fighting over who gets to sit where they cranked up the radio and sang along to country tunes. Somewhere on the way they broke out a deck of cards and played games like Kings Corner and War.
Only this wasn’t an average family vacation — it was an evacuation.
“It was just kind of stressful because everyone was getting gas, all the lines were crazy, the traffic was awful,” said the Ball State freshman. “It was still scary because everyone was just freaking out grabbing all the water and batteries and normal hurricane stuff.”
Tropical storms and even hurricanes are normal in Janness’ hometown of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. So, when he heard about Hurricane Florence, he wasn’t surprised, though it was the first time his family was evacuating without him.
“I didn’t even know about it until the day before the hurricane was supposed to hit because they didn’t tell me,” Janness said. “I had to look it up online and I was like, ‘That’s not good, that looks like a bad hurricane,’ and then I called her back and was like, ‘Are you guys evacuating because that would be a good idea, I think.’”
After speaking to his mom Lisa, Kaleb found out his family was evacuating to a relative’s in Florida.
“When they first start talking about the storm, it’s pretty far out in the water so you don’t really think about it too much but once it gets closer and they start more pinpointing everything you start thinking, ‘Well, is it really worth it to stay,’ because you really don’t want to go because it’s a lot of work and traffic and all that,” Lisa said. “We decided this time that it’s always better just to go and be safe.”
After school cancellations and business closures, the Janness family decided to evacuate. Just like the previous times, there was a mad dash for supplies and plenty of traffic, though it was eased just slightly by the reversal of lanes away from the city.
“Everybody goes crazy at the gas station making sure their cars are filled up with gas,” Lisa said. “I think the night before we left there were lines and people had to wait like an hour to get gas and couple gas stations even ran out.”
After traveling more than 400 miles in the car after having surgery on her meniscus, Lisa said she and the family were ready for sun. But the rays and waves weren’t quite enough to take away the worry completely.
“You never want anything to happen to all your stuff,” Lisa said. “The most important thing, of course, is your family and making sure everybody is safe. It’s very stressful just worrying about everything and every time you turn on the TV it’s all they talk about.”
While Hurricane Florence dropped a total of 35 inches of rain, making it the wettest tropical cyclone in North Carolina, it didn’t wreak much havoc on the town of Mount Pleasant.
The town, Kaleb said, escaped with minimal damage and just saw some downed trees and minimal flooding unlike previous hurricanes which uprooted trees that have destroyed family members’ cars and homes.
“It’s definitely relieving to know that everyone is still there and nothing happened bad,” Kaleb said. “We’re not financially rich. We’re stable, but we don’t have extra money to spend because there are four kids and we all play travel sports and I’m in college now so if something would have happened and the insurance didn’t cover all of it we would have been kind of in trouble.”
Packed back in the Kia Sorento, Kaleb’s family and dog made the long journey back to Mount Pleasant. They waited in traffic with hundreds of other cars. They sang along to pop music and played cards.
When they returned home they moved all of their patio furniture back to its rightful place. They turned their air conditioner and water back on. They went back to work and school.
And now they wait for the next sign of a hurricane.
Contact Brynn Mechem with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BrynnMechem.