By Thomas Goldsmith

Maria Brown and her friends at a Raleigh senior center weren’t too freaked Monday about the approach of Hurricane Florence — yet.

“I’m not frightened,” said Brown, 71, a New York City transplant who was playing cribbage at the Five Points Center for Active Adults. “I’ve got gas and cash. That’s what we were told to get.”

african american woman wiht a big smile looks slightly past the camera. She's riding out her first big hurricane in North Carolina
Margaret Brown, 71, says she’s got gas and cash on hand in preparation for Hurricane Florence. Photo credit: Thomas Goldsmith

Several patrons’ plans were informed by distinct recollections of previous monster storms such as Hurricane Hazel, which in 1954 killed 19 people and destroyed 15,000 homes in North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service.

“In Hazel, I saw the willow trees whipping by with their long branches,” said Maria Butler, who was a girl in Virginia at the time. The 75-year-old planned to stock up on water Monday, if she could find any for sale.

Meanwhile, Peggi Marx, 61, remembered the ferocity of Fran in 1996, one of four powerful hurricanes that hit North Carolina in the 1990s.

“An eyewall collapsed here — we had winds coming from two directions,” Marx recalled during a bridge game with friends. Marx and her family bought a generator after Fran, reckoning that the expense would be easily offset by having protection against loss of power.

As the Category 4 storm churns in the Atlantic, aiming to come ashore at Wilmington on Thursday and douse the entire state, government and media are offering plenty of tips about best practices. But older people have a particular set of needs that isn’t always intuitive, according to state and local authorities.

Write it down

an older white woman sits looking at the camera, in her lap is a book and pen. She remembers Hurrican Hazel from her childhood.
Recalling the tree-ripping wrath of Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Maria Butler, 75, realizes she still ought to pick up some water. Photo credit: Thomas Goldsmith

The state Department of Public Safety offers a list of specific actions that older people can take to make it easier to get through and recover from a hurricane. Older people and those with disabilities, or their caregivers, should:

  • Make and have available lists of devices and other needed items such as oxygen tanks, wheelchair batteries, catheters, eyeglasses and food for support animals. Specifically list the makers and model numbers of the items.
  • Let any emergency workers know if you’ll need special help to reach a shelter. Keep that information available in written form.
  • Speak up for yourself: “Run through how to fast you can tell someone the best way to safely guide or move you and your adaptive equipment,” the DPS guide says. “For example, say or write out, ‘Please take my medicine in the refrigerator, or communication device from under the bed.’ Or ‘Please do not straighten my knees. They are fused in a bent position.’ OR ‘I am deaf. Please write things down for me.’”

Document a support network

It’s important for older people to build and document a network of people who will be available to help out in crisis situations, emergency experts say. That network can include neighbors, friends and coworkers, as well as family members. Helpers will need information about your specific situation and ways to react in emergencies. Trusted people among these helpers can keep copies of house and car keys.


To aid with this process, people likely to be in need of special assistance should have — in readily accessible places — lists of local and distant emergency contacts, medical information and preferred means of communication.

Keep up wtih the latest hurricane news. Sign up for our free Headlines Newsletter.Technical resources can help older people address specific issues. At, Social Security recipients can switch from getting a check to direct deposit. This is also now a federal requirement.

And flash drives can be a handy means of saving copies of vital information and documents such as tax information, bank account numbers, wills, deeds, Social Security cards and health insurance cards

Additional tips from the Office of Emergency Management

  • “Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Your local emergency management office maintains a registry of people who need assistance in a disaster.”
  • “Talk to your doctor about your plans for dealing with an emergency and seek medical advice on a recommended course of action.”
  • “Make a complete list of your medications and the doctor prescribing them. You should be prepared for three to seven days if an emergency occurs.”
  • “Plan your evacuation. Know where you are going and how you will get there.”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Thomas Goldsmith worked in daily newspapers for 33 years before joining North Carolina Health News. Goldsmith is a native Tar Heel who attended the UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked at newspapers in Tennessee...