BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. – Law enforcement authorities arrested four men for breaking into evacuated homes in North Carolina as residents fled the oncoming Hurricane Florence Thursday.
Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office arrested Dashaun Smith, 25, and Brandon Bellamy, 30, Thursday and charged them with breaking and entering and possession of burglary tools, WSB reported. Each man has a $20,000 bond. The sheriff’s office arrested another pair the same day, 21-year-old Devin Harris and 18-year-old Justice Harris, and charged them with breaking and entering a motor vehicle. Each has a $5,000 bond.
“I want to send a message to the criminal element that’s looking for that opportunity: We’re going to do everything within our power to be very vigilant, working with our community, and if you seek to prey upon the citizens of Brunswick County, we’re going to do everything we can to lock you up,” Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram told WWAY. “I made sure ahead of time that we had adequate space for anybody that wanted to try that.”
Police warned evacuees against returning to their homes to prevent looting, as Hurricane Florence is still in full swing and flooding is expected in many areas.
Looting isn’t new when it comes to natural disasters. Opportunists struck in both Texas and Florida in 2017 during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The volunteer rescue organization Louisiana Cajun Navy said looters fired shots at its boats during an attempted rescue in Houston after Harvey.
The original Facebook post was deleted, but a volunteer with the group posted a video on the group’s Facebook page saying he had heard reports that shots were fired at one of the boats.
Authorities in Harris County, Texas, announced in August 2017 that several of the reported looters could face life sentences, albeit unlikely.
District Attorney Kim K. Ogg’s office made the announcement on Twitter after law enforcement arrested 14 looters throughout the Houston area over the 48 hours prior.
“People displaced or harmed in this storm are not going to be easy prey,” Ogg said. “Anyone who tries to take advantage of this storm to break into homes or businesses should know that they are going to feel the full weight of the law. Offenders will be processed around the clock without delay.”
Texas law increases punishments for crimes like robbery, burglary and theft if committed in a state-declared disaster area.
Abandoned pets are another concern during hurricane evacuations.
Myrtle Beach police say three dogs were left without food or water at an evacuated home, according to mymyrtlebeachonline. Police determined that the people who lived at the home had evacuated and would not be back until Sunday, authorities said.
Animal control took the two outside dogs to a shelter, the report said. An officer was to follow up the next day for the other dog, according to police.