In the predawn hours of September 7, elements of Florida’s Army National Guard, while conducting wellness checks on residents who defied mandatory evacuation orders, repelled a band of FEMA agents that tried to muscle their way into abandoned homes on Ocracoke Island, a vulnerable swath of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
At approximately 2:50 a.m., soldiers of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were conducting rescue operations near Silver Lake when they spotted roving armed FEMA patrols entering homes of persons who had evacuated the imperiled inlet.
Sergeant Eugene Thomas Wright said two men in FEMA windbreakers kicked down a door on Howard Street, which was impassable due to rising flood waters from the cresting lake and catastrophic storm surge. According to Sergeant Wright, the FEMA agents emerged from the house carrying rifles and shotguns, which they had apparently stolen from residents who entrusted their vacant homes to government care.
“We were told people on Ocracoke stayed behind to ride out the storm, and we were ordered to evaluate their situation and conduct rescues if wanted and possible. The FEMA people were going door to door, but only to houses that looked dark and deserted, no candles or flashlights seen. They came out of that house with five more rifles than they went in with. It looked like they were looting the house of weapons, not trying to help anyone that might have foolishly stayed put,” Sergeant Wright said.
The FEMA agents, he added, bashed in at least three more houses on Howard Street. One cautious resident had shuttered his doors and windows with sheets of plywood, but that did not deter FEMA—they used prybars to gain entry and then steal every gun in sight.
“It’s almost as if they knew which houses had firearms,” Sergeant Wright said.
At that point, he radioed his commanding officer with a report of government agents arbitrarily ransacking homes. He was instructed to ignore FEMA and search for displaced residents in need of aid.
“Dorian wasn’t my first hurricane response,” Sergeant Wright said, “and I know criminals will sometimes dress like law enforcement because it makes looting easier for them. In any case, I couldn’t in good conscience ignore what I saw. We had four guys in my hummer, and we all agreed to confront these thugs.”
He said his squad intercepted the FEMA agents, who prowled the streets in unmarked SUVs painted black as pitch, on the doorstep of a dilapidated home the storm had ripped asunder. The National Guardsmen blocked the entryway and demanded to know why FEMA was unlawfully confiscating weapons from empty homes.
“They told us to mind our own business and pointed their M-4 rifles at us. They said the federal government authorized their actions, and that by barring access to the home, we were in fact impeding their job. Two more agents appeared, and then another two. We were outmanned and outgunned, but stood our ground,” Sergeant Wright said.
The agents’ indomitable thirst for blood provoked the guardsmen to raise their weapons in response to what they perceived a clear and present danger to their lives.
“They told us—the National Guard—they had the right to use deadly force on us if they wanted. This, of course, only pisssed us off more. We told them we weren’t going anywhere. And we stood there with weapons trained, staring down each other in the pouring rain,” Sergeant Wright said.
The jurisdictional standoff, he added, lasted for thirty minutes, before the agents finally lowered their weapons, withdrew, and left in their vehicles. A potential catastrophe had been averted.
In closing, this incident is not the first time the National Guard has skirmished with FEMA in the aftermath of a natural disaster; in the wake of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, FEMA agents shot and mortally wounded two national guardsmen that were handing out MREs in Dade County, Florida.