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Vulnerable residents urged to evacuate ahead of storm

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The City of Elizabeth City and Elizabeth City Fire Department carried out a controlled burn of the Eager Miss, an abandoned vessel that had been anchored near U.S. Highway 158 on the Camden Causeway for about a year. The city wanted to burn the vessel so it would not present a hazard during Hurricane Florence.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management is encouraging local residents in vulnerable areas to evacuate before Hurricane Florence hits.

“Voluntary evacuation is in effect as of 2 p.m. today, and encouraged for those in low-lying, flood-prone areas,” according to a press release the agency issued Tuesday.

Emergency Management also announced it will open the K.E. White Center as an emergency shelter, starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The local American Red Cross will supervise the shelter, volunteer coordinator Carolyn Self confirmed Tuesday.

Emergency Management Coordinator Christy Saunders said Hurricane Florence's current path doesn't warrant issuing a mandatory evacuation. However, the agency’s press release warns that people who shelter in place may not be able to get emergency response during the worst of the storm.

“Although evacuation is not mandatory, please be advised that if you do not act within the time allotted, once the wind speeds and weather conditions escalate, emergency response may no longer be available,” the release states.

Saunders said first responders will respond to calls for as long as it's safe to do so, but emergency management will decide if conditions are too dangerous for them. She also said that agencies' thresholds for safely responding to calls vary, depending on equipment and other factors.

Saunders also said the agency only plans to open one shelter for now. The press release advises the shelter can house 300 people.

Self added Tuesday that people should bring their own sleeping supplies, such as blankets and pillows, as well as personal hygiene items, medications, special dietary items, and clothing. No pets are allowed in the shelter.

She also urged people to double-check to make sure their properties are secure before leaving for the shelter. Self also said there's no set date when the shelter will close; that will depend on storm damage and when people can return home.

Self also reported that shelters will open in Hertford County. On Wednesday at 6 p.m., Hertford County High School in Ahoskie will open as a shelter, followed by Hertford County Middle School in Murfreesboro opening on Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

In Perquimans, county officials have announced that a shelter will open at Perquimans County High School on Wednesday at 5 p.m. As part of its state of emergency declaration, the county has also announced a voluntary evacuation for low-lying areas and manufactured homes. The county also has announced a nightly curfew that will be in effect Thursday through Saturday, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. The curfew will not apply to traffic on U.S. Highway 17, the county said.

During Perquimans’ state of emergency, all liquor, beer and wine sales will stop at 8 p.m. on Thursday. In addition, residents will not be allowed to purchase firearms, ammunition or explosives.

In Chowan, county officials expect to open shelters at John A. Holmes High School and Chowan Middle School. The county and the Red Cross will announce when the shelters will open.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Saunders said the area is expecting winds below hurricane strength, but seven or more inches of rain.

City Manager Rich Olson noted Tuesday that the area is now under a hurricane watch. He also said that, based on the current storm track, Florence may be more of a “rain event” than a wind one. It may prove similar to Hurricane Matthew, he said.

Olson also discussed the city's storm preparations during Monday night's city council meeting. He warned councilors and the public that Florence is an unusual storm.

“We have not had a Category 4 hit North Carolina in a long, long time,” Olson said.

Olson told the council then that emergency officials were considering an evacuation, but noted people would have to travel far to avoid Florence.

“Our concern with this particular storm is, we have nowhere to send the people,” Olson said. “The information we're getting … if they're going to go inland, they're going to have to 250, 300 miles inland to avoid the storm.”

City councilors also urged the public to get ready for the storm, and offered prayers for everyone's safety.

In another, unusual bit of storm preparation, city council also voted to accept the donation of a dilapidated boat that's partially sunken into the Camden Causeway. City officials reported the former owner lacked the money to fix or remove it; accepting it as a donation expedited its removal. The state of emergency allows the city to burn the boat and remove the remnants, Olson also said.

City officials wanted the boat gone before Florence so the storm wouldn't toss it ashore and damage property.

Though city and county officials are encouraging evacuation, it appears many residents are planning to ride out the storm locally. Stores and hotels are reporting heavy business right now.

“Ice, water, propane, they're pretty much gone,” said Jerry Cartwright, manager at the Han-Dee Hugo's convenience store on U.S. 17 South. He also said people are buying lots of gas, beer and cigarettes.

Cartwright also said he believed it was mostly locals – not passing evacuees – making most of the purchases.

At the BP station at the corner of Hughes and Halstead boulevards, Tim Evans also indicated the staples are flying off shelves.

“Oh yeah, buddy,” he said when asked if business had picked up for gas, ice and other supplies. He also said it appeared to be local people.

An employee at the 7-Eleven store on Halstead Extended also said people, mostly local, were buying a lot of ice, water, propane and gas.

Tika Patel, manager of the Quality Inn on U.S. 17 South, said her hotel is at full occupancy, describing that as kind of unusual towards the end of summer. She also said she's drawing people not just from the beaches, but anyone who lives near the water or in mobile homes.

Employees at Elizabeth City's Best Western and Hampton Inn also said they were full or filling up due to the storm. They declined to give their names.

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