The impending fury of Hurricane Florence has prompted evacuation orders for more than a million people along the Carolina coast, but one couple who made a last-minute decision to flee has an unenviable history with hurricanes.
Gerry and John Leighton moved to South Carolina from New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy devastated their beach house in 2012.
They had initially planned to ride out the latest storm in their Myrtle Beach home but by Wednesday morning, amid reports of a slight change in the storm's path, they opted to evacuate.
Some of the latest weather models "had it hitting us directly," Gerry Leighton said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
"It's devastating," she said.
"I want to sit down and sob but I have to get packing," she wrote in a later email.
They're not the only ones getting out of the path of the storm. There are very few cars on the streets today, and many of the restaurants and stores along the boardwalk at the heart of the town -- which attracts more than 18 million tourists a year -- are closed and boarded up.
Myrtle Beach was hit by major hurricanes in the past, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Hazel back in 1954. But if they land in the direct line of Florence, it will be the area's first high-category storm in decades.
The Leightons have been preparing for the storm for several days. They run a franchise of doggie day care Camp Bow Wow and made sure to return all the dogs to their owners or emergency contacts over the weekend.
They were "completely stocked up" Tuesday with flashlights, batteries, charged devices, bottled water, water jugs and extra food a local restaurant gave them after a recent meal because the owners were clearing out inventory, Gerry Leighton, 57, said.
At the time, she said, "we just feel like we'll be safest here and we can see and mitigate against any major issues."
But her thinking changed overnight.
"If the house gets damaged and we're in it, what are we going to do? It's not like we can save anything while we're here," she said Wednesday morning.
Their emotional attachment to the home played in role in the reluctance to evacuate, they said.
They built the home after going through a yearslong legal battle with the contractor who built their first South Carolina home that was later deemed faulty and had to be demolished two years ago.
"Everything that could be wrong with the house was, and so the consensus was that it would be cheaper to start over than fix everything that was wrong," she said of the house that had to be torn down in November 2016.
"It was so difficult. We didn't have a place to live," Leighton said.
After making plans to evacuate to Greensboro Wednesday morning, she posted a message on Facebook explaining to friends and family why they grappled with the decision.
"I know that it seems like a no-brainer to others, because 'things' don't matter, etc., but our story is not normal, having lost a house to Sandy, and then being displaced for several years because of a conman, with no sense of security or being settled," Gerry Leighton wrote.
The Leightons were at their primary New Jersey residence further inland during Hurricane Sandy, but their secondary home in Little Egg Harbor was hit by all the flooding that came with the storm.
"Everything except for a few things on the walls were lost. It was devastating," she told ABC News.
They had trouble accessing the beach house for days after the storm, which partially contributed to their original plan to stay in their Myrtle Beach home during Florence.
They weren't too worried about the thin pine trees near their home and they had planned to drain the pool in their backyard because "the last thing we need is to be flooded by our own pool," Leighton said.
"This house brought us a calm and sense of security that we didn't have for probably 5 years," she wrote on Facebook after deciding to leave.
"It represents an incredible feeling of home for us homebodies, and it is devastating to even think that we could, once again, be longing for that security."
Couple who lost home to Sandy now fleeing Florence: 'I want to sit down and sob'
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