WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - While thousands of people struggle to overcome the damage left behind by Hurricane Florence, citizens in Wilmington broke into the closed Family Dollar Saturday on Greenfield Street to steal anything they could find.
WECT reporter Chelsea Donovan arrived Saturday to find dozens of people carrying items back to the public housing community Houston Moore.
"When we came over the hill on Greenfield Street, you could just see people everywhere," Chelsea Donovan said.
Donovan and another WECT employee walked to the front entrance and back exit of the store at the intersection of Greenfield and South 13th Streets, witnessing people wearing masks and carrying out various items, including paper goods.
What Donovan didn't see was law enforcement and there's a reason.
Wilmington police sent out a statement Saturday afternoon that they were told by management of the Family Dollar to stand down after receiving reports of looting at the store.
Assistant Police Chief Mitch Cunningham said officers were talking with the owner, who initially said he didn't want to pursue charges when the arrived on scene. Cunningham said officers consulted with the district attorney and the owner ultimately agreed to press charges.
Officers are now working to identify and arrest those involved in the looting.
Due to the looting, Wilmington police said they will enact an extended curfew for the blocks between 13th, 14th, Greenfield, and Martin streets. The curfew will go into effect at 5 p.m. and will last until 6 a.m.
"We take looting very seriously and we are going to aggressively pursue any kind of looting that goes on," Cunningham said. "We are going to take a strong stand."
Earlier this week, District Attorney Ben David said he was working to clear room in the jail so looters could be charged with taking advantage during disastrous situations.
Brunswick County authorities arrested four people earlier this week on felony breaking and entering charges.
With the situation out of hand, Donovan and the photographer retreated to their vehicle.
"I was concerned the whole time. I won't lie, but I was there to get the story," Donovan said.
After the looting, District Attorney Ben David reiterated a statement he said ahead of Hurricane Florence hitting the coast: "There is a vacancy sign on our jail."
David and Judge J Corpening allowed inmates with low-level misdemeanors to be released on their own recognizance while others were transported to other detention facilities to make room for anyone who takes advantage of this situation.
"We have room for people who are going to show the worst in humanity during this. If that means going into unoccupied homes because people have left or looting property that's exposed to the elements or price gouging that comes in the wake of clean up," David said.
David said his advice to the chief of police is to prosecute looters to the fullest extent of the law. A business can decide whatever they want to do civilly, but criminally law enforcement has been advised to move forward.
"It is a felony," David said. "These are serious crimes, and they are going to be seriously punished."
In regards to the looting at the Family Dollar, David said there are people that can be identified by watching the video. He encourages people to report anyone they recognize.
Just a few hours later, the Wilmington Police Department arrested five people from the Dollar General store on Dawson Street. Police say they will be charged to the fullest extent of the law.
David made it perfectly clear that law enforcement is ready to do their jobs.
"We're going to do everything we can to protect your property. This is not a response to the video, this has been our message before the storm arrived," said David, adding, "This conduct does not speak for the people in that community."