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Owen Aylesworth rattled off a list of hurricanes he's lived through since moving to Wilmington, North Carolina 15 years ago — Matthew, Irene, Charlie, Ophelia, just to name a few.

Florence, said the Hebron native and son of State Rep. Mike Aylesworth, is different.

People are taking Florence seriously, said Aylesworth, a land development manager.

Thursday morning he finished up boarding up the downstairs windows to his home. He's expecting to be without power for a long time, but he's got a generator.

Many local gas stations are without fuel. There's no bottled water left on store shelves. The ATMs will soon run out of cash. Home Depot closed its doors Wednesday, he said.

"We've just started to get the first tropical storm gusts," said Aylesworth early Thursday afternoon. Florence is expected to hit Wilmington, which is about five miles "as the crow flies" from Wrightsville Beach.

"I've learned a little over the years. Matthew was a pretty fierce storm last year and I boarded up a window. This year I've boarded up all downstairs windows," he said, adding his wife, Susannah and children, Sadie, Louisa and Jack have headed inland to stay with family.

Aylesworth said he's staying put.

"I know we are going to lose power, but I live in a 90-year-old brick home on high ground which has withstood other storms. I'm not worried about my personal safety. I am concerned about the aftermath," said Aylesworth, adding forecasters are saying Florence will be the worst since 1954 when Hurricane Hazel decimated the coast. He's expecting flooding to devastate the low lying areas of the region.

People, even lifelong residents, are taking Florence more seriously, he said, either leaving or boarding up a "safe room" within their homes. This is the first time the state has issued a state-wide evacuation of barrier islands, said the 1991 Culver Military Academy graduate.

Aylesworth said Thursday he finished lashing down everything outside or putting items in a shed and that he was done preparing.

He'll pass the storm's furry by checking on friends. The storms, he said, can provide a "good community experience and bring people together."

Aylesworth also has a "good supply of ice and beer" on hand.

Local emergency responders waiting

Luis Ortega and his partner Maggie Martinez woke up Thursday morning in the parking lot of a Walmart in Garner, North Carolina.

The EMTs from InHealth Integrated Care are one team of about 100 just watching and waiting as Florence headed toward the East Coast.

Ortega, of Hammond, and Martinez, of Highland, drove 13 hours Wednesday after being deployed at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"It's a little windy and drizzling off and on," said Ortega early Thursday, adding the two and other crews slept in their ambulances as they await directions.

Ortega said some groups have been separated into teams of five ambulances, but the InHealth team is considered an "independent team" and hasn't yet been given an assignment.

Ortega said they haven't been given much information on Florence's timing or impact, but were catching television reports whenever they went into the retailer to use the restroom or buy something to eat.

Some miles south, eight ambulances from Elite ambulance service arrived Wednesday at Spartanburg, South Carolina, said the Orland Park, Illinois-based company's regional manager Paul Marik.

Like InHealth, they are in partnership with FEMA to help provide emergency medical services when a natural disaster strikes anywhere in the country. Last year Elite sent crews in response to Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.

"They are traveling halfway across the country to help people," Marik said about the 16 employees, drawn from crews normally serving Northwest Indiana and Illinois.

He expects they will be there about two weeks and will be doing whatever is needed to help people during and after Florence strikes.

"It's a waiting game right now to see what happens," Marik said.

Nick Meyer, director of external communications for NIPSCO, said they have not sent any of their employees to the region, but are closely monitoring the situation.

However, Meyer added, as part of a network of mutual aid support for energy companies, NIPSCO has been in contact with those seeking assistance and have released about 75 individuals from contractor resources who have headed to Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.