At North Carolina aquariums, creatures to ride out storm alone

WILMINGTON, N.C., Sept 13 (Reuters) - From turtles to fish, the denizens of North Carolina's three major aquariums will be facing Hurricane Florence alone after their handlers were forced to leave under mandatory evacuation orders.

Florence, a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and still growing, is expected to strike North Carolina late Thursday or early Friday, potentially bringing deadly high seas and catastrophic flooding.

Animal handlers at the three aquariums, which are all located on the vulnerable Outer Banks barrier islands, had no choice but to leave on Wednesday after making last-minute preparations.

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Preparations made ahead of Florence
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Preparations made ahead of Florence
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 10: In this NOAA satellite handout image, shows Hurricane Florence (C) as it gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda moving west on September 10, 2018. Hurricane Isaac and Helene can be seen to the east of Florence. Weather predictions say the storm will likely hit the U.S. East Coast as early as Thursday, September 13 bringing massive winds and rain. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
The pumps at the Shell gas station on Western Boulevard featured 'out of gas' signs as people prepared to ride out Hurricane Florence on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
South Carolina National Guard soldiers transfer bulk diesel fuel into fuel tanker trucks for distribution in advance of Hurricane Florence, in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Brian Calhoun/Handout via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Hurricane Florence seen over the Atlantic Ocean, about 750 miles southeast of Bermuda in this handout photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on September 9, 2018. NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill
A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
Boarded up houses are seen ahead of Hurricane Florence� expected landfall, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver
A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver
A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Picture taken September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
A county worker drives astride the levy along Lowery Street September 10, 2018 in Lumberton, North Carolina, ahead of Hurricane Florence. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
The water treatment facility sits along Lowery Street in Lumberton, North Carolina, September 10, 2018. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused catrostraphic flooding in Lumberton as well as the water treatment plant, causing thousands without water. - More than a million people were ordered to evacuate the path of Hurricane Florence as the Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) bore down on the East Coast of the United States. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told up to one million residents of the state's eastern coast to leave their homes ahead of the powerful storm's arrival on Thursday. The governor of neighboring North Carolina also ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks and parts of coastal Dare County while a state of emergency was declared in Virginia. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Tarek Elshik, left, fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Tarek Elshik fills gas cans to fuel a generator to refrigerate insulin for his 10-year-old daughter Yasmeen Elshik's Type 1 diabetes treatment in case power goes out during Hurricane Florence, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, at the Exxon station on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, N.C. (Casey Toth/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media following a briefing on Hurricane Florence in the Oval Office at the White House September 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by ZACH GIBSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles line up September 11, 2018 as they exit Surf City, North Carolina, following a mandatory evacuation order and curfew ahead of the arrival of Hurrican Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Houses are seen near high tide on September 11, 2018 in on Topsail Island, North Carolina, where many homes, already battling flooding and beach erosion, aren't sure what to expect with the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)
Signs warn customers that alcohol sales are suspended at an Exxon station in Harbinger, North Carolina on September 11, 2018. - From Charleston's colonial mansions with finely-crafted balustrades, to fragile Outer Banks beaches, to exalted centers of American history, the tourism-heavy US East Coast is facing a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane Florence. (Photo by Alex Edelman / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX EDELMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents evacuate from coastal areas near Wallace, North Carolina, on September 11, 2018. - Hurricane Florence would deliver a 'direct hit' to the US East Coast, emergency officials warned on September 11, 2018, urging residents to heed evacuation orders and seek shelter from the potentially catastrophic storm. More than one million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been told to flee their homes as the hurricane churns across the Atlantic Ocean towards the coast. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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"The animals are part of our family,” said Danielle Bolton, spokeswoman for the Pine Knoll Shores aquarium, which closed to the public on Tuesday. "It is very emotional having to close and not know exactly what’s going to happen.”

The animals "got fed as much as they could the last few days,” Bolton said.

At the other two aquariums, North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, some 20 miles south of Wilmington, and on Roanoke Island, employees also did everything they could to protect the various sea creatures.

"(The handlers) are all very concerned about what will happen and what could happen,” said Robin Nalepa, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Aquarium, which is home mostly to fish, sharks, reptiles and sea turtles.

“Obviously, we sit right on the coast, but part of the building has been there for 40 years, since 1976,” she said.

Before leaving, employees completed an extensive checklist that included preparing animal habitats as best they could for the incoming storm, Nalepa said. Some animals were moved to safer parts of the building, water levels were topped off and generators were left running to oxygenate the water, she said.

"It’s not only personally distressing that there’s a (Category 3) hurricane that we’re all trying to prepare for personally, but that it could impact the animals that they care for on a daily basis. It can really take a toll,” she added.

Bolton of Pine Knoll Shores noted that some sea creatures are more resilient then others.

"Sharks can go two to three weeks without eating. However, we don’t normally let them go that long in the aquarium," Bolton said. "We might find one or two of the smaller fish missing. We hope that’s not gonna happen.”

The center of Florence was forecast to draw close to the North Carolina coast on Friday afternoon - perhaps lingering just offshore - then drift southwest along the shoreline before turning inland on Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

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13 things to do to prepare for a hurricane
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13 things to do to prepare for a hurricane

Establish an emergency plan with your family.

The Department of Homeland Security says all families should come up with an emergency plan well before a disaster occurs.

Families should prepare their emergency kits (keep scrolling for a list of items to put in them) and determine what they will do in case of a necessary evacuation. Agree upon a reunion point for your family, and pick someone out of state who your family members to contact if you get separated.

Write down important phone numbers and keep them in your wallet, as cell phones may die during a disaster.

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Prepare an emergency kit ahead of time.

The Red Cross recommends that all emergency kits include enough water for at least three days, with a minimum of one gallon per person per day.

Other suggested items include non-perishable food, a flashlight, a weather radio, a first-aid kit, medications, copies of important documents, cash, an emergency blanket, and a map of the area.

Jarrod Murrieta, head of claims catastrophe response at Farmers Insurance, told Business Insider that he also recommends buying a filtration device that can remove bacteria and parasites from water.

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You may need to treat your water if you are waiting a long time for the storm to end.

You may lose access to clean drinking water during a severe storm. If so, it's best to boil water to make it safe to consume. If that's not possible, you can use bleach to kill microorganisms. Add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir the contents, and let them stand for 30 minutes.

If you are running low on water, avoid salty foods because they will make you thirsty. Instead, eat whole-grain cereals and canned foods that have a lot of liquid.

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Don't evacuate unless officials recommend or require it.

Storm surge warnings are the most common reason for mandatory evacuation orders. To find out whether your area is being ordered to evacuate, sign up for your community's warning system, and pay attention to the Emergency Alert System and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

Evacuating without guidance from officials can be dangerous. Last year, when Hurricane Harvey hit, officials initially chose not to tell Houston residents to vacate their homes because they were hoping to prevent drivers from getting into accidents or getting caught in traffic on flooding roads. That decision was informed by chaos that ensued before Hurricane Rita in 2005, when 73 people died in Texas as about 3 million residents were trying to evacuate.

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Find out where your local evacuation shelter is located.

In areas at risk of hurricanes, emergency shelters will likely be set up before the storm, and you can contact local officials or FEMA to figure out where these shelters are.

The Red Cross keeps a list of available emergency shelters, and you can search for open shelters by texting SHELTER and your zip code to 43362.

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Prepare your home for heavy rainfall.

Start preparing for heavy rainfall by securing your rain gutters and clearing the drains.

Keep tarps and some cords to tie them down in case you need to patch up holes in your house.

When the storm arrives, flooding and downed power lines may also require you to turn off your power, so prepare to switch it off.

If you live in a flood-prone area, it's a good idea to waterproof your basement ahead of storm season and elevate your heating system, electric panel, and water heater. You can also install a sump pump and get a water alarm that will notify you when the system is overloaded.

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Clear your yard before the storm hits.

Make sure there's nothing in your front or backyard that could get swept up in water or blown about by strong winds and cause damage to your home. Bring patio furniture, propane tanks, bikes, and other large objects inside.

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Do not put tape on your windows.

If you apply duct tape to glass windows, extreme winds could make the glass break into larger and deadlier shards.

Instead, you should board up your windows with plywood and caulk the perimeters. If you are preparing far ahead of hurricane season, you can also buy wind-resistant windows and pull-down storm shutters.

During the storm, stay away from the windows to avoid getting hurt by broken glass. It is better to pass the time in a room without windows or inside a closet when the strongest part of the storm hits.

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Prepare your car in case you need to evacuate.

Your car's gas tank should be full before a storm arrives in case you need to leave your house. Lines get long at gas pumps ahead of a storm, so take this step as early as possible.

If you're anticipating an evacuation order, make sure that your car has an emergency kit stored inside.

As with any outdoor furniture or decorations, any cars should be moved into your garage or under cover before a storm hits.

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Do not attempt to drive through floodwater.

Driving through floodwaters is more dangerous than it may seem — 12 inches of fast-moving water is enough to sweep away a car.

If you can't see the bottom of a flooded area, you should avoid stepping into the water. A storm surge or flood can contaminate water with bacteria and chemicals. There could be sharp objects like nails or broken glass hidden from view, and puncture wounds can lead to tetanus or other infections. Downed power lines in the water may also expose you to electricity. And in some areas, you risk encountering snakes and fire ants in the water.

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Take steps to insulate your clothing if you are in wet or cold conditions.

Stuffing your clothes with insulating material is the best way to maintain warmth, survival expert Tim MacWelch told National Geographic. You can use a range of items for this, including crumpled paper, leaves, or bubble wrap.

If you're trapped in wet or cold conditions, sharing body heat with another person is also a good way to stay warm. Or if you are able to access an object that has been heated, such as a stone or bottle, hold it between layers of your clothes. MacWelch said this is a safe way to help hypothermia victims.

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Put a quarter in a cup of frozen water in your freezer.

Power outages can spoil everything in your fridge, and it may not be clear whether your food is safe to eat. An easy trick to determine whether items in your fridge might have spoiled is to fill a cup with water and put it in the freezer until the water is frozen. Then, put a quarter on top of the cup and return it to the freezer.

When you return, if your quarter hasn't moved, then you'll know that your electricity did not go out for a long time during the storm. But if the quarter is resting at the bottom of the cup, your food is no longer safe to eat.

The CDC also recommends that you lower the thermostat in your fridge and freezer to the lowest possible temperature. That will help your food stay fresh longer if the power goes out.

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Clean your home quickly after a storm ends to prevent mold growth.

The CDC recommends that you clean and dry your home within 24 to 48 hours after a flood ends, if possible.

To air out your house, use fans to dry any wet areas and open the doors and windows. If you can't dry something quickly, it is best to throw it away.

You also need to remove and throw away drywall and insulation if it has been contaminated with sewage. Pay attention to leaks in the roof or walls as well.

If you spot mold, put on some protective equipment — ideally goggles, a N-95 respirator, and protective gloves — and clean it. According to the CDC, you should mix a cup of bleach with 1 gallon of water to clean off mold.

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(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York Writing by Dan Whitcomb Editing by Leslie Adler)

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