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Weakened Florence starts lashing Carolinas

The outer bands of wind and rain from Hurricane Florence began lashing the outer banks of North Carolina on Thursday as the monster storm zeroed in on the Southeastern coast with more than 10 million people in its potentially devastating sights

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Apparently hoping for some divine intervention when Hurricane Florence arrives, the operators of Edenton Coffee Shop in downtown Edenton spray-painted the words "Psalm 91" along with the shop's name on the boards covering the business' windows, Thursday.

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From wire, staff reports

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The outer bands of wind and rain from a weakened but still lethal Hurricane Florence began lashing North Carolina on Thursday as the monster storm moved in for a prolonged and potentially catastrophic stay along the Southeast coast that could drench the homes of as many as 10 million people.

Florence’s winds dropped from a peak of 140 mph to 110 mph early Thursday. That reduced Florence from a Category 4 hurricane to a Category 2, but forecasters warned that the widening storm — and its likelihood of lingering around the coast day after day after day — will bring ocean water surging onto land and torrential rain.

As of 8 a.m., Florence was centered about 170 miles southeast of Wilmington, moving at 12 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds up to 195 miles.

Forecasters said Florence’s eye could come ashore early Friday around the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Then it is likely to hover along the coast Saturday, pushing up to 13 feet of storm surge and unloading water on both states.

Although Florence’s storm track has the storm moving westward, tropical storm warnings and storm surge warnings remained in effect Thursday for all Albemarle-area counties.

Christy Saunders, Pasquotank-Camden emergency management coordinator, reported Thursday morning that Pasquotank and Camden counties should see a storm surge through Friday of between one and two feet. 

The storm is also expected to drop up to an inch of rain on Thursday and possibly two inches Friday and another inch Saturday, Saunders said.

Winds are expected to be 18-25 mph with gusts of 35-40 mph, according to Saunders. Peak gusts could approach 50 mph, she said.

Elizabeth City City Manager Rich Olson said the city is preparing for power outages but does not expect them to be widespread. Nevertheless, the city is preparing for the worst, Olson said.

Chris Powell of Albemarle Electric Membership Corporation said the utility has vehicles fueled up, chain saws ready and all employees on one-hour standby.

“We're prepared for the worst regarding outages but we're cautiously optimistic about the storm's track,” Powell said.

Albemarle EMC has secured hotel rooms for extra line crews but is not sure they will be needed, Powell said.

Red Cross volunteer coordinator Carolyn Self said that, as of 8 a.m. Thursday, the shelter's occupancy was 56, with more people expected. However, she said based on the storm's current forecast, she didn't expect the shelter to hit its maximum occupancy.

"I'll be very surprised if we do," she said, adding the shelter seems to be drawing people who live in very low-lying, vulnerable areas.

Self also thanked agencies supporting the shelter. The Salvation Army is providing meals, Pasquotank Department of Social Services and Albemarle Regional Health Services are providing medical help, and the Elizabeth City Police Department is keeping an officer on the premises. Self also said there have been no incidents so far.

"They're usually pretty good groups" who stay at the shelters, she noted.

Local utilities are also preparing to respond to any power outages. The city of Elizabeth City utility customers can report outages at all hours at 335-2196, while Dominion Power customers should call 866-366-4357 and Albemarle Electric Membership Corporation customers should call 1-800-274-2072 to report outages.

Mary Beth Newns, director of emergency management for Currituck County, said the evacuation order for the Currituck Outer Banks will remain in effect until further notice.

There already has been some overwash in the Carova area at high tide, but no other damage reported as of Thuresday morning, according to Newns.

Newns didn’t have an estimate of how many people have evacuated from the Currituck Outer Banks but said most people have complied with the county’s order.

“We have had a very good response,” Newns said. “There aren't very many people over there.”

Traffic has been moving very well for such a large evacuation, she said.

Meanwhile, local residents continued to make preparations ahead of the storm’s arrival.

Officials at Stevenson Sand in Elizabeth City indicated as many as 20 people came by Wednesday to fill sand bags to protect their property. Employees said there was a steady stream of people all day long filling sand bags. A company employee said Stevenson had never before had people fill sand bags in preparation for a storm.

In Edenton, a number of downtown businesses were boarded up Thursday in expectation of the storm’s arrival.

One business on South Broad Street in fact had the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 spray-painted on a board covering a window. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Edenton Coffee Shop likewise had Psalm 91 spray-painted on the boards protecting the shop's windows. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust...,” the verse reads.

The forecast calls for as much as 40 inches of rain over seven days along the coast, with the deluge continuing even as the center of the storm pushes its way over the Appalachian Mountains.

The result: catastrophic inland flooding that could swamp homes, businesses, farm fields and industrial sites.

The police chief of a barrier island in Florence’s bulls‘-eye said he was seeking next-of-kin contact information from the few residents who refused to evacuate.

“I’m not going to put our personnel in harm’s way, especially for people that we’ve already told to evacuate,” Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to remain alert despite changing forecasts.

“Don’t relax, don’t get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill. Today the threat becomes a reality,” he said.

About 5.25 million people live in areas under hurricane warnings or watches, and 4.9 million in places covered by tropical storm warnings or watches, the National Weather Service said.

Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said Florence eventually could strike as a Category 1 with winds less than 100 mph (160 kph), but that’s still enough to cause at least $1 billion in damage. Water kills more people in hurricanes than wind does.

It’s unclear exactly how many people fled, but more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to clear out. Airlines canceled nearly 1,000 flights and counting. Home Depot and Lowe’s activated emergency response centers to get generators, trash bags and bottled water to stores before and after the storm. The two hardware chains said they sent in a total of around 1,100 trucks.

Duke Energy, the nation’s No. 2 power company, said Florence could knock out electricity to three-quarters of its 4 million customers in the Carolinas, and outages could last for weeks. Workers are being brought in from the Midwest and Florida to help in the storm’s aftermath, it said.

Florence’s weakening as it neared the coast created tension between some who left home and authorities who worried that the storm could still be deadly.

Frustrated after evacuating his beach home for a storm that has since been downgraded, retired nurse Frederick Fisher grumbled in the lobby of a hotel in Wilmington several miles inland.

“Against my better judgment, due to emotionalism, I evacuated,” he said. “I’ve got four cats inside the house. If I can’t get back in a week, after a while they might turn on each other or trash the place.”

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