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Posts published in “Life in Durham”

In Durham, protecting the bears and wolves from Hurricane Florence

Correction, Sept. 17: This story has been corrected to clarify that the museum has four red wolves, not two as originally reported.

Only a few at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham remember when Hurricane Fran hit: three staff members, a couple of turtles, and Misha the red-tailed hawk.

The morning after that 1996 storm, animal caretaker Sherry Samuels returned to the museum to find fences for several enclosures crushed by fallen trees and the bear house filled with water.

“I swam down a road rather than walked down a road. It was that much water,” she said.

The museum had no power, and only a fraction of the staff got to work that day.

The staffers who made it sprang into action. They drained the flooded enclosure and fed warm apples to the shivering bears.

Now, Samuels is the director of the animal department, and she’s leading the museum’s preparation for Hurricane Florence.

When the first forecasts showed Florence heading toward the Carolinas last weekend, staffers at the museum made 80 sandbags to stack in front of areas that might flood. They stocked shelves, inventoried medicines and began planning what to do with the animals.

Virginia, pictured here, and other bears at the Museum of Life and Science should fare better in this weekend’s storm because of lessons from Hurricane Fran in 1996. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Life and Science)

“There are wonderful things about living in captivity: You get access to health care and food, but you don’t have space or the same choice, and in extreme weather, space and choice is critical,” she said.

Samuels said that this time around, the four black bears will be locked in their house. The lemurs and farm animals will also be kept indoors.

The museum’s four red wolves – two adults and their two juvenile pups – are her primary concern. They’re part of a breeding program to conserve the critically endangered species native to the southeast.

“The wolves are really nervous, shy animals, so it’s always a judgment call of whether to leave them where they are or crate them up and bring them inside, which is very stressful on the wolves and people,” Samuels said.

Before the storm hits, she’ll have to decide if they’ll stay in their six-acre enclosure or come inside.

When designing its new Explore the Wild exhibit to house the bears and wolves, the museum took into account lessons learned from Hurricane Fran.

The bear house was built on a site three feet higher, and the drains were revamped to better control flooding.

“Everything — from procedures to protocols to training to infrastructure — is all better now,” Samuels said. “Does that mean we’re going to ride out the storm and not have any issues? No, each storm has a life of its own, but we can try to prepare.”

Fearing power outages, Durham residents rush to library for old-school entertainment

“Tennessee,” a guide on the state’s attractions by Margaret Littman more than 500 pages thick, was at the top of Jeffrey Petrou’s stack of books as he left the Southwest branch of the Durham County Library Tuesday evening.

“In case we’re evacuating to Tennessee,” Petrou, a local entrepreneur, said when asked why he chose the book.

With the threat of power outages this weekend due to Hurricane Florence, a steady parade of Durham bookworms followed Petrou out of the library with their own stacks Tuesday evening. Most chose books more for pleasure than practicality.  

Real estate advisor Kelsey Berland chose 10 books, mostly novels, to prepare for a possible power outage.

Real estate advisor Kelsey Berland, 42, carried 10 books out of the library, saying she sought out “fluffy” page-turners like mysteries and true crime stories, including the late Michelle McNamara’s new book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” But she was most excited to open up Tom Hanks’ “Uncommon Type,” a collection of lighthearted short stories that all involve an antique typewriter — and yes, that Tom Hanks.

“I’ll go volunteer if I need to, but otherwise, it’s like, ‘Nope, I’ve got all my books at home,’” Berland said. “Somebody was telling me you should be ready for up to seven days of no power.” She seemed confident her 10-book stockpile would be enough.

Stacks of books even taller than Bertrand’s were common. Some patrons toted full bags of books in both hands to feed the whole family. Durham School of the Arts eighth grader Theo Reeves was weighed down by the stack of 17 he lugged alongside his mother.

The middle schooler came just to get the next novel in the series he is reading, “Darke” by Angie Sage. But he decided it was better to be safe than sorry and emptied the shelves of everything interesting he could find.

Retired talk radio producer Mona Gauthier followed the Reeves family out with just one paltry book, the detective novel “Nine Dragons” by Michael Connelly, and felt the need to justify her scarce supply.

Mona Gauthier chose a new detective novel to keep herself occupied.

“I already have five books at home,” she said. “I’m going to make sure I don’t get bored.”

Inside, librarian Larry Daniels said regulars were calling the front desk, wanting to renew their books for a little bit longer.

Thunder rumbled outside. A young boy shouted, “I can tell the hurricane is coming,” and ran out the door with his parents chasing after him.

The rain held off as the real storm swirled off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. The boy was ready with a book in each hand.