Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Friday in preparation for the expected arrival of Hurricane Isaisas in the state on Monday.
The National Weather Service forecast indicates the storm, which was upgraded to a hurricane Thursday night, would first increase ocean swells and cause rip currents starting Friday and continuing into next week.
Cooper said Friday the state could feel the greatest impact of the storm Monday night and into Tuesday. Tropical storm-force winds could be felt as early as Sunday night.
“Although the track and arrival of the hurricane could still change, now is the time for North Carolinians to prepare,” Cooper said in a statement released by his office. “Hurricane preparations will be different given the COVID-19 pandemic, and families need to keep that in mind as they get ready.”
Christy Saunders, emergency management coordinator for Pasquotank and Camden counties, also said the storm’s first impacts will likely be increased swell/rip current risk starting this weekend. The threat for tropical storm force winds is increasing, especially along the immediate coast, with winds beginning as early as Monday morning, she said.
Saunders said the storm’s track and intensity remained uncertain on Friday. She urged area residents to continue to monitor the storm’s projected path over the next few days. She also urged them to complete their hurricane preparedness as soon as possible by Sunday evening. That includes inspecting supply kits, updating emergency contacts, and reviewing emergency evacuation protocols. She also noted that important information, including your evacuation zone, is available at www.readync.org/ and knowyourzone.nc.gov.
Saunders said pre-storm shelters will still be opened as needed but shelter capacity could be significantly reduced in order to comply with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. She recommended that if possible people make arrangements to stay with a friend or family member, go to a hotel, or evacuate the area.
“If you have absolutely no other choice, a public shelter would be the last option,” Saunders said. “Temperature checks and screening will be conducted before entry and face masks will be required.”
In Currituck County, officials said they most likely would wait until Sunday morning before deciding whether evacuations were needed in Carova and Corolla on the county’s Outer Banks.
“However, an evacuation decision could be made sooner if there is a significant change in the storm’s track or intensity,” a county press release states.
Area electric utility providers Albemarle Electric Membership Corp. and Dominion Energy both said they were monitoring the storm and would be prepared to respond to any outages.
Capt. Matt Baer of the U.S. Coast Guard noted the storm slowed down somewhat on Friday and was expected to arrive along the North Carolina coast sometime Monday morning or possibly later on Monday.
People should plan to be off the water 24 hours in advance of the arrival of hurricane force winds, he said. Frequent monitoring of information about the storm is important as it heads this way, he added.
Baer said he urges boaters and residents to prepare on Saturday for the hurricane’s arrival. Deadly rip currents and other dangerous conditions in coastal waters are likely beginning on Sunday, he said.
The Coast Guard will do everything it can to respond to boaters in distress but will not be able to notify boaters individually of dangers as the storm approaches.
“We don’t have the ability to get out and warn everybody,” Baer said. “We want people to be safe and not get out on the water when this storm is approaching.”
Commercial fishing vessels and others who need to be on the water as much as possible can probably do so safely on Saturday but conditions could start to worsen on Sunday, he said.
If at all possible boats should be removed from the water and secured safely on land, Baer said. Life jackets and other gear also should be secured.
Hyde County authorities announced on Friday the evacuation of Ocracoke Island residents and nonresident property owners would start at 6 a.m. Saturday. Ocracoke Island is accessible only by ferry.
Coastal residents being asked to evacuate should first try to locate family or friends to stay with inland, Cooper said, or stay at a hotel if they can afford one.
If they can do neither, they’ll be directed to shelter reception centers, where they’ll undergo health screenings. Those with COVID-19 symptoms will be isolated or receive medical treatment, officials said. Others will go to shelters that are smaller and can hold fewer clients to comply with social distancing, Division of Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said.
Swift water rescue teams, if needed for the storm, will have personal protective gear to quell the spread of the virus, Sprayberry said. Some coastal COVID-19 testing sites may need to be rescheduled or canceled due to the storm.
Ocracoke is still recovering from Hurricane Dorian. The storm hit last September, launching a 7-foot storm surge over parts of the island’s village, which measures about a square mile.
Many people remain displaced or are still waiting for houses to be raised higher off the ground. The island’s one school, which serves approximately 170 students, is being rebuilt.
Officials are suggesting Ocracoke residents to take the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry route to evacuate because routes on Pamlico Sound are operating at significantly reduced capacity due to shoaling in a channel. Other local governments, in consultation with state officials, will make evacuation decisions, Cooper said.