Hurricane Florence is creating cancelations and delays all over the Carolinas, but for one couple, it threw a major wrench in their wedding day.
Marsha Bradbury and Jonathan Gillenwater, 56, who reside in Hurricane, West Virginia, were scheduled to get married in Salvo, a small town in the North Carolina outer banks on Sunday, September 16. They’d been planning their destination wedding since March, and were preparing for 30 guests to attend their ceremony.
“We had this beautiful rental home that overlooked the sound and we going to be married close to sunset because the photos during sunset there are phenomenal,” Bradbury, 56, tells PEOPLE. “We didn’t need a whole lot of décor to take because that was the décor.”
However, when reports of Hurricane Florence began circulating in early September, Bradbury started to panic. She says she started watching the weather religiously and tracking the storm’s path, but her fiancé told her not to worry.
“I said, ‘You may as well talk to the wall because I’m going to worry,'” Bradbury says.
On Monday, Dare County, where Salvo is located, ordered a mandatory evacuation, meaning they had less than a week to figure out what to do with their wedding.
“I spent most of Monday crying—even though that doesn’t help—but that’s what I did,” Bradbury says.
Because the couple had taken off work for the whole week for their wedding, they couldn’t wait or move their wedding date. Then she got the idea to contact Scott Edwards, the mayor of Hurricane, W.V., to see if he had any last minute ideas for a venue. After striking out with multiple places around town that were already booked under such short notice, Edwards suggested the pair try City Hall, and offered that they could reserve the space and plan their wedding for free.
“Seeing as how so much money is tied up in North Carolina, I really didn’t have a whole lot [to spend],” Bradbury says.
Although they purchased travel insurance for their N.C. rental home, they weren’t able to immediately get a refund from the house due to the offices being closed from the hurricane.
Locals in the community have stepped up to help out, donating flowers, photography, and a professional D.J. Baily Turner, the owner of Alyssa B. Events also offered her wedding planning services pro bono.
“I have candles and things like that but in the meantime I’ve got my gracious lady—the wedding planner,” Bradbury says. “It’s just pretty phenomenal what all is happening.”
Of course, even though she never could have predicted a hurricane would ruin their original wedding plans, she now has more friends and family able to come to the wedding because it’s local, and she’s amazed at how the community has stepped up.
“We already had the napkins printed and the whole bit. September is hurricane season and it would not have surprised me in the least for something to occur,” Bradbury says. “But I sure wasn’t expecting it to be smack dab right in the middle of my plans. I’m feeling a lot better about the whole situation. The whole thing just had me so upset—just not knowing. Of course, it would be a perfect world if all a bride had to worry about was getting ready and walking down the aisle. That’s a perfect world but obviously we don’t live in one of those.”
“But now, I have the key to the city, essentially, from Friday evening until throughout Sunday night,” Bradbury adds. “What’s been happening—the way people have come out of the woodwork that we don’t even know—we’ve just been blown away.”