ORLANDO, Fla. – News 6 photojournalist Jeff Segers and I just returned from covering the wrath of Hurricane Florence as it hit Wilmington, North Carolina.
We watched as the people who live there got ready for the storm to strike. We witnessed the fury of the wind and rain in the downtown area. And we stared in awe at the aftermath.
Here are five lessons I'm bringing back to Florida:
1. You are never 100% prepared, but you can be 90% prepared
Some of the residents of Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach told us they had enough supplies -- food and water -- to last a couple days.
They're now finding out they will not get electricity back for weeks, and the roads in some areas are almost impassable.
Have extra food, water and batteries on hand, and also look for ways to clean the water before you drink it.
Also, have a plan for your pets. Some of the residents in North Carolina decided to stay in their homes because they couldn't find a shelter to take their animals.
2. Evacuate when advised
In the words of emergency response personnel on the front lines in North Carolina: "We aren't issuing this evacuation order for nothing."
Police, fire and ambulance crews cannot respond to any emergencies, including car accidents, when the wind rises above a certain threshold.
Floodwaters may rise after the storm, blocking you from getting help you may desperately need.
3. Rain and wind are not the only enemy
As we saw in North Carolina, the wind and the rain were torrential, but so was the storm surge.
Even after the rain and the wind stopped, the water of the Cape Fear River started taking over entire cities. Cars were submerged under feet of water.
The only choice residents who stayed put had was to wait it out.
4. Find another way to communicate with loved ones
After the storm hit, cellphone service crept to a crawl.
I use Sprint, and my photographer uses Verizon. Both services slowed down dramatically as more people started calling to make sure their loved ones were OK as the cell towers suffered damage.
Again, the first choice is evacuating and preventing this issue altogether. If that's not possible, come up with another way to communicate with loved ones.
5. The human spirit is alive and well
In the face of witnessing such devastation, it's inspiring to see people working together to get through it.
No one stopped to ask who voted for whom, what their party affiliation was or what religion they were.
We watched people stop to help -- no matter what.
A crew that drove their tow truck in from Texas helped pull a heavy vehicle while its tires were spinning in soaked grass. Air boats arrived in the city of Wilmington to assist in water rescues. There was no pay for these volunteers who traveled miles to help.
It's reassuring that in the wake of danger, people still come together to help their neighbors.