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Emergency officials are urging residents to use common sense as Hurricane Florence hits the area and once the skies clear.
“This is a dangerous storm, and it can still kill you,” said Gordon Deno, Wilson County Emergency Management director.
On Thursday morning, Wilson County was under a tropical storm warning as Hurricane Florence approached the area. A flash flood watch was also in effect until 8 p.m. Saturday.
Local officials say residents can expect heavy wind and rain for an extended period of time. Strong winds are set to begin Thursday night continuing through Saturday morning. Flooding will be a concern as early as Friday night.
In a daily briefing Friday, Nick Petro with the National Weather Service said the concern is the storm is offshore with some outer bands approaching Interstate 95 and some wind gusts in the 15 to 20 mph range.
The storm is moving a little farther north than the official forecast track and some others models have it. That might mean some heavier bands lift a little farther north with tropical storm gusts.
TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN
When Hurricane Matthew swept through Wilson on Oct. 8, 2016, it dropped up to 15 inches of rain and brought 58 mph winds. Two people died in Wilson County alone after their vehicles were swept away by floodwaters.
That’s why emergency officials urge residents to heed the warnings, reminding folks that flooding could be life-threatening.
One of the most prominent hazards that often lands people in high water is driving into standing or moving water that has covered a road.
“In the event of flooding and high water, do not attempt to drive through it,” said Wilson Fire/Rescue Deputy Chief Jim Campbell. “If you can’t see the road, turn away. Rapid moving flood waters can cause swift water situations that may lead to drowning.”
Residents also are advised to stay away from standing water if possible because of the threat of contamination from sewage.
Wilson police Sgt. Steve Stroud said in the event of widespread power outages and non-functioning street lights, intersections should be treated as four-way stops with drivers taking clockwise turns based on who arrived at the intersection first. Officers might be stationed at major intersections, but others will be unstaffed, and if wind speeds exceed 35 mph, all emergency personnel will retreat until conditions improve.
“Back in 1999, I worked Floyd, and in the middle of the night, we were in waders on Mercer Street evacuating people and because of conditions, they were readying to pull us out of there,” Stroud said. “For the people who decided to stay, it was a life-threatening situation, but it became life-threatening to the officers, too.”
City and county personnel plan to use a variety of equipment to post photographs, video and drone footage of conditions throughout the duration of the storm. Real-time traffic information and street closures will be posted on social media and official websites.
“We do not need people traveling in the storm unless absolutely necessary,” Stroud said.
WilSON COUNTY TOWNS
The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office activated its inclement weather plan Thursday. Deputies are assigned to all substations in the county, including those in the towns of Elm City, Lucama, Saratoga and Sims.
“This will allow an immediate response as well as safety factors for the deputies traveling throughout the county,” said Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard.
Deputies will also be conducting security patrols throughout the county for anyone involved in an unsafe incident, Woodard said.
“However, we ask for the safety of yourself and the deputy to remain inside of your home before and after the storm,” he added. “This will allow emergency personnel to effectively access the aftermath of the storm.”
Woodard said the sheriff’s office search and recovery team will also be on standby if rescue efforts are needed due to flooding.
Woodard said residents should refrain from driving through standing/high water.
“Because only 6 inches can be hazardous to a driver,” he said. “Even though you may be able to see the road, the water can still be deep.”
The town of Sharpsburg, which straddles Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties, imposed a nighttime curfew effective Thursday through Sunday. The town’s state of emergency declaration requires residents to stay indoors from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., with exceptions for first responders acting in their official capacities and those whose presence “is immediately necessary to sustain the health or well-being of themselves or someone within the curfew area.”
The declaration signed by Mayor Robert Williams states that the emergency curfew is “in the best interest of public safety.”
COPING WITHOUT POWER
Jennifer Pittman, with Duke Energy Progress, said 1 million to 3 million electrical outages are expected. Already, there are 20,000 people in place to restore power, she said, adding its the largest mobilization of resources to a severe weather event to date.
Prior to losing power, residents are urged to keep all electronics, especially cellphones, charged and ready to go. But once the power goes out, officials have some pointers for life without electricity.
“Follow the instructions that come with the generator and always locate the unit on a dry, outdoor surface away from doors, windows, vents and air-conditioning equipment that could allow carbon monoxide to seep into the house,” Campbell said. “Gas-powered generators can be used safely if they are placed in a well-ventilated outdoor area at least 10 feet away from a home or structure.”
“You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide and portable generators can produce high levels of CO very quickly. If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air immediately.”
Officials recommend having a supply of nonperishable food that does not require cooking in the event of emergencies, but many residents turn to outdoor grills to vary meals. Campbell reminds residents to never use charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace. Keep the grill away from children and pets, never leave it unattended and when finished, let the coals cool completely, then dispose of the coals in a metal container.
There are emergency shelters at Fike High and Darden Middle schools. Officials urge residents to shelter in place unless there is a medical condition or life-threatening situation.