A sign outside the Cape Fear Wine and Beer bar in Wilmington, North Carolina, advisies those riding out Hurricane Florence to ease the stress with a beer (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

Wilmington (United States) (AFP) – As Hurricane Florence barrels towards the US East Coast, millions are evacuating, boarding up windows and stockpiling water. But others are ordering pizza, beer and vodka for “hurricane parties,” a tradition in storm-prone areas to ride out the tempest in style

“Stay alert, stay safe, drink good beer,” reads a chalkboard sign outside a bar in Wilmington, North Carolina, in the path of the approaching storm.

“Florence hates local beer,” reads another. Most bars in the historic town center stayed open late Wednesday night, well after most other shops and businesses had rolled down their shutters and evacuated their employees.

“People don’t have to work the next day because of the hurricane. So they think: ‘Hell, what should we would do? We have a day off. Let’s get drunk!'” said Jordan Berry, the barman at Cape Fear Wine and Beer, a local haunt where sports programming had been replaced by weather forecasters on the television screens lining the walls of the bar. 

The rules of hurricane parties — which help ease the fear and relieve the boredom during long lockdowns — are simple. 

“Before the hurricane, you drink. During the hurricane, you drink. After the hurricane, you drink and you cry,” said Margot Stevens, enjoying a drink in the bar, just a block back from the Cape Fear River.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop it, so if you have to die, die happy,” she said.

– ‘Hot tub, pizza, drugs and vodka’ –

Some bars pride themselves on staying open no matter how strong the winds and rains outside, but Florence — expected to be the most powerful hurricane in decades — is proving just too dangerous. Cape Fear Wine and Beer was due to close its doors when the storm hits Wilmington, a picturesque town just in from the coast.

Florence, due to make landfall Thursday afternoon along the coast of North and South Carolina, is expected to be devastating. Even though it has weakened, it still carries the high risk of torrential rains and catastrophic flooding.

So those residents of Wilmington who had not already fled were making their preparations. 

Aaron Yates, like many others, said he would party at home as Florence batters the shoreline. “There were more messages on Facebook about the liquor store going to close early than warnings about the hurricane,” he joked.

Carla Mahaffee said she would be riding out the storm with friends, as they do during every hurricane. 

“Hot tub, pizza, drugs and vodka,” was their established routine, she said.

“Hurricanes can be boring. So to kill the boredom, we can end up on the rooftop ‘playing reporters’ battling elements with fake microphones,” she said.

“You see people running into the street right in the middle of it, completely blazed out,” said Berry, the tattooed barman at Cape Fear Wine and Beer.

“People go through a lot of stress because of what could happen to their property, their workplace, their vehicles. People are blowing off steam the only way they can,” he said, serving up a glass of local craft beer named, appropriately, Tropical Lightning.

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