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Area vigilant, but hoping Florence has 'shifted favorably'

091318 Hurricane

But Ksor (left) and George Grills break down a tent Wednesday on the deck at Groupers Restaurant in Elizabeth City in preparation for Hurricane Florence's arrival either late Thursday or early Friday.

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By Jon Hawley and Peter Williams
Adams Publishing Group

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hurricane Florence has “shifted favorably” for northeastern North Carolina, but emergency officials said Wednesday they're still braced for the storm and the flooding likely to follow.

States of emergency continue across much of the Albemarle, as does a mandatory evacuation order for parts of Currituck. County officials announced Wednesday that the shelter site for residents who evacuate has changed. The pet-friendly shelter, which has been designated for Currituck residents, has opened at Halifax Community College at 100 College Drive in Weldon.

Meanwhile, emergency shelters opened Wednesday evening at the K.E. White Center at Elizabeth City State University, Perquimans County High School in Hertford, and at John A. Holmes High School and Chowan Middle School in Edenton.

Officials said they hope the area is well prepared for the massive storm, which is still expected to make landfall Friday night, but is now expected to veer further south than previously forecast. The National Weather Service office in Wakefield, Va., is projecting the storm to straddle the North Carolina-South Carolina border. That's reducing the impacts the Albemarle is expecting – but those impacts will still be substantial, based on a forecast shared by Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management.

“Gusts in your area could be in excess of 40 mph with sustained winds around 25 mph,” the forecast states. “For storm surge, currently we expect between one and three feet in your area. Scattered rain should begin Thursday morning and last throughout most of the weekend.”

Flooding still remains likely with the storm’s current track, the weather service said.

Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management Coordinator Christy Saunders said the forecast has “shifted favorably” for the region, but she's still expecting flooding in low-lying places that typically flood after heavy rainfall. She said she's not expecting major routes to become impassable, however.

In a cautiously optimistic note, Saunders said the area is expecting less than the 13 inches of rainfall that fell during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. She also noted that Matthew’s flooding was exacerbated by rainstorms that preceded it and saturated the ground.

Even so, Saunders said emergency officials are not relaxing their preparations. The Red Cross will continue to operate the storm shelter at the K.E. White, and Pasquotank, Camden and Elizabeth City officials are still encouraging a voluntary evacuation for citizens who live in low-lying areas.

They've also warned that, if wind and flooding become too severe during the storm, first responders may not be able to respond to emergencies.

Pasquotank County Manager Sparty Hammett also seemed optimistic about what the area can expect from Florence. He said the forecast for the region greatly improved overnight — only four to seven inches of rain were forecast as of Wednesday — though he, too, urged residents to keep watching the forecasts, plus Emergency Management’s Facebook page.

In Perquimans County, county officials have announced a state of emergency begins there at 8 p.m. Thursday. They will also be imposing a curfew between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. on both Thursday and Friday.

“The purpose of the curfew is to encourage folks not to drive through the flood waters,” Perquimans County Manager Frank Heath said.

The latest weather service forecast shows Perquimans may get between 4 and 7 inches of rain from Florence. And like in Pasquotank, winds in Perquimans are expected to be 40 mph.

Sheriff Shelby White said for the most part residents stay inside and don’t drive during hurricanes.

“Most stay at home and then after it’s done they will drive and look around,” he said.

White said there are portions of U.S. Highway 17 that flood if there is a lot of rainfall. One site is between Union Hall Road and Cartwright Swamp Road. The other is in the area of Snug Harbor and Perry Long roads. Both had standing water across all four lanes during Hurricane Matthew.

Regarding the ban on the sale of explosives, that’s allowed by state law during states of emergency. Heath said while the ban was included in a post on social media, it was not included in the resolution Perquimans officials adopted.

The ban on the sale of all liquor, beer and wine sales will go into effect as of 8 p.m. Thursday. Heath said depending on the new forecasts, “we’ll see if it’s even needed.”

“If the storm keeps going south, we’ll lift the stuff as needed. We are trying to err on the side of caution,” he said.

Pasquotank, Camden and Elizabeth City have not imposed a curfew, and have not discussed restricting alcohol and firearm sales, Hammett said. He noted the three local governments will make those decisions jointly so Emergency Management can give clear, consistent messages across its service area.

U.S. Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City is also prepared for the storm — and to respond to storm-impacted areas — Base Cmdr. Randy Meador explained in an email Wednesday.

“We train all year for these contingency events,” Meador said.

Regional Coast Guard commanders authorized a voluntary evacuation for non-essential personnel and their dependents, and the Air Station “has relocated aircraft and prepositioned several to the north and south of the projected path of Florence.”

Meador also said that “we are already in the planning phases for post-storm operations,” and “we do expect a large influx of search-and-rescue and recovery teams to be located” at the base. 

Another key institution for disaster response is Sentara Albemarle Medical Center. Spokeswoman Annya Soucy said Wednesday that the hospital has transferred critical-status patients to other facilities in case the hospital loses power, and nutritional services are prepared to provide food even if power is lost.

The hospital is planning to avoid or minimize any power loss, however, as she reported extra fuel is on-hand for its backup generators. She also reported the hospital has made sure it has ample supplies of food, pharmaceuticals, blood, water and oxygen.

She also said the hospital has made accommodations for staff to shelter at the hospital, ensuring key personnel won’t be cut off from the hospital due to flooding. Maintenance and environmental services will also be present during the storm to address any damage that needs immediate attention, she added.

The North Carolina National Guard is also preparing to respond to any disasters caused by Florence. Chowan officials announced Tuesday night that 12 personnel and three trucks have been stationed in Edenton, which will serve as the hub for any deployment in the region.

Saunders said Pasquotank, Camden, and Elizabeth City have seven elevated vehicles that — after the storm — will be able to reach people in flooded areas. In life-threatening conditions, people should call 911. Residents not in immediate danger but still needing help can also call Emergency Management at 335-4444, she added.

Chowan Herald Editor Miles Layton also contributed to this report.

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