Hurricane Florence devastated communities throughout North and South Carolina. But some of the hidden victims of such natural disasters are our shelter animals. Thankfully Tony Alsup and his trusty school bus are committed to saving them.
In September 2018 the first major hurricane of the Atlantic storm season left a trail of destruction in the Carolinas. Hurricane Florence’s strength peaked on September 10, 2018, when it was traveling near the island of Bermuda.
As Florence approached the American East Coast, at a news conference on September 11, Roy Cooper, North Carolina governor, had a grave warning. “This storm is a monster.” He added, “It’s big and it’s vicious. It is an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane.”
Fortunately, by the time Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, it had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane. However while the storm may have been less serious than first predicted, it continued to wreak havoc nonetheless.
The winds of Hurricane Florence were still strong enough to topple trees. They also caused power cuts in North and South Carolina. And because the storm was traveling slowly – at just two or three miles per hour – it was able to dump record-breaking rainfall onto some of the affected areas.
Meanwhile the huge storm surge led to flooding along the North Carolina coast. As Hurricane Florence traveled inland, towns and cities were also submerged, leading to several major rivers breaking their banks.
By the time Hurricane Florence’s trail of destruction had ended, the storm damage totaled $38 billion and at least 48 people had lost their lives. However despite the storm’s catastrophic consequences, there were some stories of hope to come out of the devastation.
Tony Alsup, 51, comes from Greenback, Tennessee. He is the man behind Tony’s Emergency Animal Rescue and Shelter (TEARS). As part of his work, Alsup drives around in a converted bus, rescuing creatures from the natural disasters they have been caught up in.
TEARS started out in 2017, following the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey through Texas and Louisiana. Alsup decided to act after hearing how shelters had been overwhelmed with the influx of animals in the wake of the disaster.
It was Alsup’s idea to alleviate the burden on shelters by taking their excess animals and transporting them to new locations. However to have any real impact, he’d need to be driving something big. Alsup elaborated on his thinking in an interview with The Washington Post in September 2018. “I thought, well what can I do? I’ll just go buy a bus.”
Alsup explained why TEARS helps animals. “I’m like, look, these are lives too. Animals — especially shelter pets — they always have to take the back seat of the bus. But I’ll give them their own bus. If I have to I’ll pay for all the fuel, or even a boat, to get these dogs out of there,” he told The Washington Post.
And that’s exactly what Alsup did, helping first with Harvey then the Irma storm a few weeks later in 2017. TEARS also assisted the animals caught up in Hurricane Maria, that time without the bus. However, the vehicle was back in action by September 2018 when Florence hit the American East Coast.
When Alsup heads into such disaster zones, he doesn’t aimlessly grab any animal he can see. Instead, he chooses to rescue what he calls “the leftovers.” By that, he means the pets that might struggle to find homes, even in the best of circumstances.
In an interview with The Greenville News in September 2018, Alsup explained, “It’s so easy for people to adopt the small pets and the cuties and the cuddly. We take on the ones that deserve a chance even though they are big and a little ugly. But I love big dogs, and we find places for them.”
So as officials tracked Hurricane Florence’s progress, Alsup was able to arrive in South Carolina before it even made landfall. And in the relative calm before the storm, the animal rescuer was able to stop by shelters in four different towns.
On his tour of the South Carolina towns of Dillon, Orangeburg, North Myrtle Beach and Georgetown, Alsup saved 11 cats and 53 dogs. He loaded the animals into crates on his bus where they had access to food, toys, and water. Then he jumped back into the driver’s seat and set off to Foley, Alabama.
Once there, Alsup handed the animals over to Angela Eib-Maddux, who runs a private dog shelter. Not only did she agree to take the pets in until Alsup could distribute them around the country, she also gave them the royal treatment.
At Eib-Maddux’s sanctuary, the rescued animals were treated to baths and warm blankets to help them settle in. However unlike the cats and dogs, Alsup had no intention of resting. He had heard about a shelter in Wilmington, North Carolina, that needed help. He made his way there, aware that the town had been inundated with water.
Given the lengths Alsup goes to, it’s little wonder the shelters he helps are full of admiration for him. Describing the animal rescuer’s efforts in September 2018, Saint Frances Animal Center wrote on Facebook, “Not the most conventional evacuation, but surely the one with the most heart.”
For Alsup, rescuing animals is simply a passion of his. “I love it,” he told The Greenville News. “People don’t believe me, they say it’s got to be barking crazy. But no. They know I’m the Alpha dog and I’m not here to hurt them.”