BLOOMINGTON — Hurricane Florence isn't expected to rain on Central Illinois residents, but it's making life tough on several current and former residents, who will have stories to tell forever.
Take for instance, the farewell that former Clinton residents Ashley Utterback and her husband, Nolan, had Tuesday morning from their home in Jacksonville, N.C.
Ashley packed their two daughters, Colbie and Miley, and the family dog, Dixie, into the car, and headed back to Illinois for safety. Nolan, meanwhile, boarded his helicopter, property of the United States Marines, with orders to fly to Tennessee to keep it out of harm's way. The family is based at New River Marine Air Station in Jacksonville.
“I'm not sure people often think about the spouses that are left behind to deal with kids, pets, houses and things, while military personnel take care of the military bases, aircraft, buildings and everything else to keep our country safe,” said Ashley's mother, Gretchen Isaac of Clinton.
Ashley arrived at her grandparents' house around midnight Tuesday.
“She has had to deal with a lot of traffic,” Isaac said.
Other folks with Central Illinois ties also reported that traffic was a headache in leaving the East Coast for safer ground.
“I have never seen so many cars heading one way in my life,” said Thomas Leslie, a former State Farm employee and resident of Bloomington, who now lives near Hilton Head in South Carolina.
“Some people you meet are friendly and helpful and seem like they will do anything for the good of the evacuation. Others seem like they are running like they just robbed a bank and have no interest in helping out anyone, except themselves. Mass evacuations are really a great study for social experiments.”
Jason Clark, a former Pantagraph employee, is the advertising production manager for the Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, S.C. He will be among the skeleton crew that will be riding the storm out.
“In a storm like this, we have learned that the television and radio stations often lose their signal and the one place that people get their information from is the newspaper,” he said. “So, we are releasing most of the staff at 3 p.m. Wednesday and the rest of us will stick around and do whatever needs to be done.”
His wife is the manager of a couple of downtown hotels, and also will be riding the storm out at work.
Clark described his feelings as “anxious and nervous” as the storm approaches.
“I think the windup and anticipation before the storm hits is the worst,” he said. “Once the storm is here, you are busy and there is so much to do. But we can't leave. I doubt we will be able to go outside, but things change and the projection of the storm often changes in a few hours. But we are committed to putting a newspaper out and doing whatever we can for our residents.”
Some area residents are in the hurricane area for vacations, such as Pantagraph employee Kat Cantrell, who is with friends at Virginia Beach on Virginia's southeast coast.
“I have never been here before in my life,” she said. “I sure did pick a great week to come.”
Cantrell had plans to stay until Saturday, but will now leave Thursday.
“They expect to get about 24 inches of rain,” she said. “It is supposed to hit here Thursday. But already, there are long lines at the gas stations and the stores are selling out of everything.”
Cantrell said she remains optimistic about a return trip.
“I think it is going to be interesting to see the before and after because of this,” she said. “So yeah, even though this trip didn't go like planned, it still is going to be quite an experience.”