New York Times

The Hurricane Holdouts Who Never Leave Now Face a ‘Monster’ Storm

The Hurricane Holdouts Who Never Leave Now Face a ‘Monster’ Storm

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Skippy Winner, an 84-year-old retired sea captain, said he learned to ride out hurricanes from his father and grandfather.CreditCreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

By David Zucchino

For the latest updates on Hurricane Florence, read our Thursday live briefing here.

CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. — Skippy Winner, an 84-year-old retired sea captain, has stayed put for every storm here since Hurricane Hazel leveled much of this barrier island town in 1954. He rattled off those storms gone by: Donna, Diana, Hugo, Fran, Floyd and too many nor’easters to count.

“I’m gonna be just fine, so let ’er blow,” Mr. Winner said on Wednesday as he prepared to remain inside his cramped living room, which was bathed in the silver light of the TV screen. The Weather Channel played on mute. He was shirtless, with a camouflage ball cap, wrinkled khaki shorts and a medical alert necklace he knows might not do him much good.

There is a stubborn breed of hurricane holdouts who routinely aggravate and ignore emergency officials as they beg coastal residents to pack up and leave as storms approach. Every hurricane, from Katrina to Ike to Harvey, has had its share — many of them cranky, independent-minded contrarians like David Carl (Skippy) Winner Jr., the latest in a long line of Carolina Beach seamen.

The authorities, who have already spent days trying to warn people in Hurricane Florence’s path of the potential severity of the huge Category 2 storm, issued some of their most strident pleas yet on Wednesday for people to get out of harm’s way.

“We know a lot of our coastal residents have ridden out storms before,” said Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina during a Wednesday evening news conference. “This should not be one of those storms. Don’t risk your life riding out a monster.”

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Mr. Winner’s great-grandfather Joseph Winner founded what became Carolina Beach in 1857.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

The former mayor of Charleston, S.C., Joseph P. Riley Jr., who served 10 terms from 1975 to 2016, decided to set a good example for his one-time constituents by leaving town with his wife, Charlotte.

Many of their neighbors had chosen to stay put, he said, figuring they could tough out a few feet of storm surge. But Mr. Riley, 75, said he and his wife had decided to roll up some of the rugs, put them on the second floor, and get out. There were just too many possibilities that worried him.

“Our children are grown, and they’re squared away,” Mr. Riley said. “And then we have my sister-in-law, who lives in Camden. She’s always happy to see us, and it’s nice to visit.”

The current mayor of Charleston, John Tecklenburg, echoed those thoughts, urging people to avoid the heavy rain, wind and flooding expected in his city over the next few days. “It’s going to be a lousy weekend here,” he said, “and it’s going to be a good weekend to be somewhere else.”

At the Carolina Beach town hall, not far from where Mr. Winner plans to hunker down, Town Manager Michael Cramer acknowledged that a certain stripe of resident plans to ride out Florence at home, despite a mandatory evacuation notice and dire warnings from emergency officials. Such holdouts, he said, were putting themselves and first responders at risk.

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A quilt in Mr. Winner’s home, where he plans to stay despite a mandatory evacuation notice.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

“If somebody needs help, they may be out of luck,” Mr. Cramer said. The town’s emergency vehicles cannot safely navigate the streets during high winds and extreme flooding, he said. And there is no public shelter on the island.

In his living room, Mr. Winner waved a sunburned arm in disgust. He regards certain town officials with the same contempt he holds for TV weathermen.

“Hell, it’s the ones who don’t know what they’re doing that cause the problems,” he said of holdouts. “People like me and some of these other old-timers know what the hell we’re doing.”

Mr. Winner learned to ride out a hurricane from his grandfather and his father, who built the home in Carolina Beach in the late 1940s as a hurricane redoubt. On Wednesday, his comfortable recliner was raised and ready.

A plastic bag of prescription medicine was on the coffee table. There was plenty of food, bottled water, batteries and candles. Home-cooked meals, prepared by Mr. Winner’s daughter, were in the refrigerator. A diesel generator was hooked up on the cement porch, along with a supply of fuel. The house is made of cinder block and cement, with a 2-inch-thick front door insulated with horsehair.

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Carolina Beach, N.C., is a small oceanfront town that could be right in the hurricane’s path. Many residents left under a mandatory evacuation order. We met the few who stayed behind.Published On

“It’s Fort Knox over there,” said Mr. Winner’s daughter, Annette Winner.

Like many holdouts, Mr. Winner stays because he is most comfortable at home and believes that his presence might, in some ineffable way, help protect the place. He worries about looters, too. Seven security cameras around his property beam images to a monitor next to his recliner.

“If you leave, you’re likely to lose everything,” he said. “I’d worry to death that I might have been able to save something.”

Another holdout, Willard Killough III, 44, who has survived every hurricane and storm in Carolina Beach since the early 1990s, said there is something else at play.

“Sure, they say, ‘This is my home and I’m never leaving,’ but I think maybe there’s a sense of adventure there, too,” he said. Mr. Killough does not plan to leave for Florence, either.

Brad Swain, a behavioral researcher at a center affiliated with Duke University who wrote a 2017 analysis titled “The Psychology of Riding It Out,” concluded that many people do not perceive hurricanes as especially dangerous. Mr. Swain cited a Columbia University study that found that participants expressed a lower dread level for hurricanes than for such perceived risks as food preservatives or pesticides.

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CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

Mr. Swain also wrote that residents of coastal areas sometimes become inured to regular hurricane warnings and watches. Some holdouts fear that their homes will be looted, and others do not want to leave their pets or cannot afford to pay for a trip inland, he wrote.

Ms. Winner, 50, said people have given up trying to persuade her father to leave home. She has stayed with him for all but two hurricanes over the years and may join him for Florence this week.

“Daddy is a determined man,” she said. “He just wants to be in his own home.”

Mr. Winner is a well-known figure in his hometown for his blunt opinions and hardheaded ways. His great-grandfather Joseph Winner founded what became Carolina Beach in 1857.

“You learn how to deal with weather out on a boat — I learned from my daddy before we had satellites,” Mr. Winner said. “You have to use your own experience and common sense.”

Mr. Winner said his own calculations suggest that Florence will be a monster — as bad as or worse than Hazel in 1954, which came within 3 inches of flooding his home. If Florence floods him out, he said, he will retreat to the second story of his concrete garage, or jump in his pickup truck parked outside and high-tail it to higher ground.

He joked that his medical alert necklace, with its GPS and other high-tech features, would not help him much if family members or emergency responders could not reach his house.

What then?

Mr. Winner flashed a crooked smile. “If everything goes bad and something happens to me,” he said, “well, they just aren’t going to get to me, are they?”

Richard Fausset contributed reporting from Greenville, N.C.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: The People Who Never Evacuate Aim to Stare Down a Monster. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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