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The animal rescuers of Florence: Dogs saved from submerged crate, pets shuttled away in a bus

When two volunteer rescuers responding to Florence in North Carolina helped free six dogs from a crate submerged in floodwaters on Sunday, they didn’t do it for attention, but attention is what they got — a lot of it.

The two volunteers, Ryan Nichols and David Rebollar, along with journalist Marcus DiPaola, were helping people escape from their floodwater-surrounded home in Leland on Sunday afternoon when they heard dogs howling. As the people they were helping were gathering belongings, the three men went to investigate where the noise was coming from and found six dogs trapped in a cage behind a house.

“The dogs were almost underwater,” Nichols, 27, told NBC News. And the water was rising quickly. “Within an hour, they would have been dead,” he said.

The men let the dogs out of the cage and let them into the backyard, on much higher ground, Nichols said. Meanwhile, DiPaola, a freelance reporter, shot video, then tweeted it. The video was viewed nearly 3 million times by Monday morning.

Many who commented on the post criticized the owners for leaving the dogs behind. Nichols said a neighbor told him that the family who left the dogs includes an 8-month-old, and the family left in a panic between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Nichols, originally from Houston, said he didn’t go to North Carolina with the expectation of public praise. His home and business were flooded last year during Hurricane Harvey, but in the midst of his own challenges, he and Rebollar helped other people escape the devastation. “That’s when I decided, when we see a hurricane, we’re going to help,” he said.

They arrived in North Carolina on Saturday afternoon, and immediately started plucking people from their homes and into boats. “Yesterday, we brought out 25-30 (people), including a 5-week-old,” Nichols said.

He said DiPaola had asked if he could shadow them, and told the journalist: “If you’re going to go with us, you got to work.”

While he didn’t expect a flurry of public attention to follow the tweet, he said he’s glad that “people can see what’s what’s going on out here.”

The storm, which has wreaked havoc in North and South Carolina, is responsible for at least 17 deaths.

“The widespread flooding is worse than I saw in Hurricane Harvey,” Nichols said Monday while waiting in an 80-car-deep line for gas, with the hope that roads would open back up so he could get home to Texas.

Another animal savior was also in need of fuel. Tony Alsup posted a picture of his big yellow school bus on Facebook on Sunday with the caption “Rolling to Lumberton and could use help with fuel.” Alsup, 51, a truck driver from Greenback, Tennessee, has rescued 53 dogs and 11 cats from the wrath of Florence, according to The Greenville News.

He will drop the pets off at shelters around the country. “We take on the ones that deserve a chance even though they are big and a little ugly. But I love big dogs, and we find places for them,” Alsup told The Greenville News.

Alsup’s operation began with a misunderstanding before Hurricane Harvey. He saw a call online for people to help haul pets out of shelters, and he responded that he could help with his truck. Animal shelter workers had assumed his truck was a lot bigger than it was, “but I’m a man of my word. If I give you my word, it’s going to get done. So I said, you know what, why don’t I just go buy a bus?”

He did, to the tune of $3,200, and has been shuttling animals out of dangerous hurricanes since then.

“I love it,” Alsup said. “People don’t believe me. They say it’s got to be barking crazy. But no.”

Animal-Lovers Unite, Save Dogs from Hurricane

A South Carolina woman who was planning to ride out Hurricane Florence because she couldn’t evacuate with her seven rescue dogs has found a way out.

Palm Springs radio host, Kate Zenna was reading the news Wednesday when she saw CNN reported on Christine Meinhold’s dilemma.

An adopted dog-owner herself, Zenna decided she couldn’t stand back without doing something to help. She reached out to Meinhold on Facebook who said she needed a car.

A teacher in New York, Trudy Schilder, also wanted to help.

“I said we can’t let this happen, there’s just got to be something we can do,” Schilder said.

Them and other animal-lovers across the country got to work. The word started getting out and resources started flowing in.

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Zenna said about 16 people across the US coordinated on Facebook chat and donated to help Meinhold evacuate with her dogs. Initially, the group planned to purchase a 2009 Dodge Journey with the help of a generous single $5,200 donation, Zenna said, but some obstacles stood in her way.

“She gets to the dealership later that morning with her money, we were ready to pay, it was all going to be over the phone and the guy could not show up at the dealership because he was already in an evacuation zone,” Zenna said. “He couldn’t get there.”

One of the helpers recommended they use U-haul.

“Of course, all of the U-hauls are closed, everything around there was done, it was yesterday [Thursday] at noon,” Zenna said. “Except for one.”

One U-haul was the saving grace that brought Meinhold and her passengers to safety. In a video chat with Zenna, she couldn’t thank her enough.

“I hope this turns into something really good, not just for us because it has been such a blessing, but to help other people that are in my position,” Meinhold said.

A small gesture that turned a rippling hurricane into a ripple effect of kindness.

Hurricane Florence barrels toward US Southeast with ‘potential for unbelievable damage’

Hurricane Florence is rapidly intensifying and could strike a direct and dangerous blow anywhere from the Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic region later this week.

“This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that’s saying a lot given the impacts we’ve seen from hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew,” the National Weather Service reported. “I can’t emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm.”

Here’s what we know:

  • Florence is now a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 120 mph. On Wednesday, its peaks decreased slightly but the size of the wind field has increased.
  • As of 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center reports, Florence is around 385 miles southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina and 420 miles east southeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is traveling 315 degrees at 16 mph.
  • Hurricane Warnings have been issued from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Duck, North Carolina, and the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.
  • Florence is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 15 to 25 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 35 inches over portions of the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states from later this week into next week.
  • Forecasters said Florence is expected to gain strength through Wednesday, with some weakening expected Thursday.
  • Forecasters said the center of Florence will move over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the Bahamas Tuesday and Wednesday, and will approach the Carolinas on Thursday.
  • Governors of North and South Carolina, Maryland, Georgia and Virginia declared states of emergency far ahead of the approaching storm.
  • Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line re-routed its cruise ships.
  • Evacuation plans have been put into place for South Carolina, whose governor declared the entire coastline needed to evacuate starting at noon Tuesday. North Carolina issued a mandatory evacuation for Dare County residents that started Monday at 12 p.m. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a mandatory evacuation for the 245,000 people living along Virginia’s coast.


It’s too early to know the exact path of Florence, but forecasters said it could blow ashore by Thursday in the Carolinas and southern Virginia, a stretch of the U.S. East Coast that experts have identified as the most vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.

The storm’s potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to linger over the Carolinas once it reaches shore. People living well inland should prepare to lose power and endure flooding and other hazards, he warned.

“It’s not just the coast,” Graham said. “When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center.”

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 85 degrees, hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence’s hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats.

Navy ships off Virginia’s coast were preparing to sail out of the path, a North Carolina university has already canceled classes and people have begun stocking up on plywood, bottled water and other supplies.

Red flags have already been flying on beaches, warning swimmers to stay out of the water as seas began kicking up. People rushed to get emergency kits ready, map out escape routes, fill sandbags and secure their homes.