CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thousands of people watched the viral video of an American Flag being torn to shreds as Hurricane Florence made landfall.
Now, the owner of the Frying Pan Tower is sharing the backstory of the viral video and responding to critics who feel the flag should have been taken down before the storm to protect it.
Richard Neal is part-owner of the metal island in the sea. The tower at Frying Pan Shoals is a historic Coast Guard Light Station turned tourist destination, operating recently as a bed and breakfast. It's about 35 miles off the coast of Wilmington.
"The flag that was put out there was put out there slightly before we even knew Florence was going to be a storm," Neal told Channel 9 Saturday. "We didn't know to take it down, and we couldn't get back out there by the time this hurricane came in."
Neal allows an organization called "Explore Org" to operate a camera from the tower, and stream live footage from it regularly.
When winds and rain from Florence began battering Old Glory Thursday, the live stream was shared by hundreds of thousands of people.
"The feelings were very strong," Neal said, describing viewer's comments. "From, 'Take the flag down, this is disrespectful,' to "leave it up this is what we are about as Americans.'"
"So that struck a nerve," Neal added. "We ended up with hundreds of thousands of people watching it full time."
Neal believes the flag and its beating from hurricane Florence became a symbol of the "storm" Americans are weathering today, as a country.
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"Most people were watching it thinking, 'Uh, we're being torn apart as a nation, and what do we do? How do we survive this?'" Neal said. I think the message we got out of this, is that as Americans we really do care about our country. we can see the damage and the difficulty, but we can also pull together."
"We will rebuild," He added. "We will repair."
According to the tower's website, it has stood vigilant since 1964, when it was a United States Coast Guard Light Station.
Its purpose was to warn approaching boaters of the shallow waters, or shoals, near the North Carolina coast.
The light has not been continuously lit since 1992, and is privately owned by Neal and others who divide the structure like a condominium complex.
As the Carolinas begin to recover from Hurricane Florence, Neal said he hopes people see the storm as an opportunity to come together. He hopes people affected by the footage of the battered flag will turn their passionate comments on social media into action.
"We can stand up, we can contribute," Neal said. "We can show up and help. Individually, we need to take that step of not just typing about it on the internet, but get out there and make a difference."
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