AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Hurricane Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Nevertheless, it's having devastating effects across North Carolina. The storm is 400 miles wide. More than 700,000 people have lost power. And 18 trillion gallons of water could fall on the Carolinas over the next several days.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This storm is beating up the city of Wilmington. That's where Todd Terrell and his United Cajun Navy have recently arrived to help rescue people stranded by the storm. I asked him to describe where he was and what he was seeing.
TODD TERRELL: We have a rendezvous point at a local church, and what I've seen is a lot of destruction here or there on tree - lot of trees down. There was actually a couple areas where there were some tornadoes that I believe had come through. The interstate was blocked off. One section, the state troopers had actually had the interstate completely blocked.
SHAPIRO: How bad is it? You've been in a lot of storms. I mean, I know the Cajun Navy's always there whenever there's flooding and high winds. What does this look like compared to others you've seen?
TERRELL: This right here is a little different. It's staying around for a long time. They still got pretty strong winds. And, you know, the surge is what got a lot of the people flooded over here. You know, back home in Louisiana and Texas, we were basically looking at more of water coming up and kind of setting, kind of more floodwaters. This is more surge where it came up really, really fast, and the people really didn't have a chance to get out of its path.
SHAPIRO: And so have you met people who've been trapped, who've been stranded, who are regretting the decision not to evacuate?
TERRELL: Our guys have picked up this morning - I don't know - it's over 100 guys that were stuck. A lot of people, the water came up real fast, and they were stuck in their cars. So they were having to get out and get up on the roof.
TERRELL: So we was in there about 3:30, 4 o'clock this morning. And that's what we're seeing mostly. Most of the time the people just didn't get out, and the water came up really, really fast.
SHAPIRO: How many volunteers do you have there? I know it's just people bringing their own boats to help out.
TERRELL: As of this morning early, we had 210. I haven't got the final count. They actually from nine different states. We've got a good volunteer following. You know, it's people helping people. You know, and this area over here, these are our neighbors, you know. So we're going to help them.
SHAPIRO: That's an impressive number. But is there some danger to so many volunteers being in this area before the storm has fully passed? Could some of the volunteers themselves get into danger?
TERRELL: There's always that opportunity of a risk. All of our volunteers have been doing this for many, many years, you know, and many, many storms. So we always take that into consideration. But we also realize that, during a disaster, there's a chance you can get in, and you can save somebody's life as well.
SHAPIRO: How do you coordinate with the local government and other officials? How do people in need contact you? How exactly does this work?
TERRELL: First of all, what we do is we call the local EOC, the emergency managements, you know, the local fire departments, whatever. And we want to work with them, not against them. And we're coming in to these areas. We don't know these areas. So the local people know it. They can tell us where to go and, you know, how to get around a lot faster.
SHAPIRO: How many days' supplies did you bring? How long are you planning to stick around?
TERRELL: Well, you know, we always come in and bring supplies in a situation like this for about a week. But you got to remember, we're also cooking for people and catering to different things. So we're not just bringing supplies for ourself. We're bringing supplies for the local law enforcement as well. We want to make sure that everybody's comfortable and not having to struggle about food and water themselves.
SHAPIRO: And when you do rescue people, I assume you're bringing them to shelters. Are those shelters overfull? Are people pretty comfortable?
TERRELL: This morning we had a problem with some shelters. There was - I don't know if there was none open or there was nobody to pick the people up. So the people probably sat around for about four or five hours before anybody came and got them. And there were some buses that finally came around noon to pick them up. And I'm not sure where they brought them.
SHAPIRO: You know, rescuing somebody from the roof of their car in the middle of the night sounds like a pretty terrifying experience.
TERRELL: Yeah. Some of the guys that did that, you know, they worked through a pretty little eerie time. Some of them had airboats, you know, big fanboats. And the wind was kind of so strong that they actually had to stop doing that because it was actually about to turn the fanboats over. So this morning it was very eerie. And some of the guys just - they put the boat in the water, and they had to pull it right back out. They couldn't even get in.
SHAPIRO: What are you expecting in the next 24 hours?
TERRELL: It looks like there's a lot of rain still, and it looks like the winds are real gusty. We don't have as much rain on the eastern side of this as I thought it would be, but we're getting a lot higher gusts than I thought. I'm seeing a lot of shingles off of roofs, some of these architectural shingles. And some of them are rated for over 125 miles an hour, so there definitely was some high wind on this eastern side.
SHAPIRO: Todd Terrell of the United Cajun Navy. Thanks for speaking with us. Stay safe out there.
TERRELL: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.