BURGAW, N.C. (WJZ) — With the East Coast prepping for Hurricane Florence’s potential damage, shelters throughout the Carolinas have grave concerns about housing local animals.

Evacuations in anticipation of the coming storm have seen many pets left behind or abandoned as owners flee coastal counties. Government-owned shelters filled up quickly, and those that capacity must make space, potentially resulting in euthanizing animals to reduce overcrowding.

Manager of the Pender County Animal Shelter, Jewel Horton, stated that her shelter is “avoiding euthanasia at all costs” in an exchange with The Washington Post on Wednesday. “That’s why we’re begging for assistance.” Organizations like the Pender County Humane Society are working to clear space in the shelter without having to sacrifice animals.

For Kevin Raffee and his wife, Julie Lamacchia, this was an opportunity to save what animals they could before the Hurricane ran its course through local communities.  The couple had already abandoned their seaside home in Wilmington, N.C. and packed a nine-foot moving van, dubbed the “Fluffy Bus” with nearly two dozen cats and dogs.

“For us, animals are more important than things,” said Lamacchia, president of the Burgaw, N.C.-based Humane Society. “Things can be replaced -anything can be replaced- but you can never replace a life, whether it’s a person or an animal.”

Usually, when the Pender County shelter nears capacity, Horton gets the word out to the town of around 4,100, and residents respond. Back in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew hit, Horton was able to find enough homes for the shelter’s animals, but Matthew didn’t hit North Carolina head on. Two years later; Horton isn’t hearing as much. “People are fleeing this state like no tomorrow. There’s just not people here to take these animals on.”

Horton said she is bound by law to accept every animal that comes through her doors. So it’s important that the shelter clears out as many animals as possible before the storm hits because once it does, Horton expects her shelter to become much more cramped.

“When we start hitting recovery mode, space is going to be an issue,” she said. “Getting people here to help us is going to be an issue.”

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