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Comfort Inn becomes hurricane hostel for those who choose to ride out Earl on Outer Banks

A two-story Comfort Inn has become a makeshift hurricane hostel on North Carolina's Outer Banks for those who want to stay close to their homes but know they need better shelter from the onslaught of Earl.

Billy Parker, 55, chose to stay so he could keep an eye on his treasured property, but wasn't taking any chances with his family. He sent his wife, mother-in-law and two daughters to Elizabeth City — two and a half hours away on the mainland.

"I don't want them here," Parker said. "I'd fear for their lives."

Most of the hotel guests said they would rather get trapped on Hatteras Island than off it and prepared themselves for weeks without contact with the outside world. Storm overwash frequently destroys parts of Highway 12 — the only roadway connecting this exposed frontier to the mainland.

Donna Lopez, 38, didn't think it would be worth the effort to move three kids and three dogs to another spot hours away when so many others had safely navigated storms here.

Her children — ages 3, 5 and 10 — played around the parking lot Thursday evening as the storm gathered off the coast. Their stilted home nearby was boarded up for protection, but Lopez didn't want to take any chances at the house and didn't want to make the long drive away from the barrier islands when home could be accessible early Friday.

"With the kids, it's just safer to be over here," she said.

They had a room packed with lunchables, drinks and video games.

As the storm approached, about a dozen hotel guests mingled outside sharing drinks and cigarettes, even as the first bands of swift wind and strong rain whipped through the parking lot. A few others used laptops inside behind plywood-covered windows ready for an uncomfortable night of storm-watching.

Some of the hotel's windows were covered in plywood and cars filled the slightly elevated parking lot in hopes of avoiding any flooding, but it might not be enough.

When Hurricane Emily similarly brushed the Outer Banks as a Category 3 back in 1993, it brought so much surge into Buxton that first-floor rooms at the Comfort Inn were damaged under 2 feet of water.

"As long as it doesn't get over the top of the bed, I'm OK," said Tony Willis Jr., 33, a resident of nearby Frisco who sought shelter at the hotel with his family.

They all gathered Thursday at a local two-story hotel, hunkering down in a makeshift hurricane hostel that they perceived to be the safest shelter from swirling Hurricane Earl.

Flooding also wasn't the priority concern for Parker, who was staying on the first floor. He simply didn't want to venture too far from his doublewide trailer in Buxton, saying he wants to be able to quickly access it after the storm moves past Friday. Sipping on a beer as he watched the skies, Parker said he was worried about the damage of the storm's wind and water — and the fate of his life's belongings.

"That's my life. I've worked 30 years for it," he said.

For Nadya Bozhkova, 20, a student visiting for the summer from Volgograd, Russia, there were few options for evacuation.

Bozhkova doesn't have a car or a driver's license that would let her flee. She was worried about staying at the small motel that she's called home for the last couple months, so she packed all of her belongings into the Comfort Inn.

"I have no choice," she said.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling to onslaught in first paragraph. This story is part of AP's general news and financial services.)