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With winds of more than 140 mph, Hurricane Florence has strengthened to a Category 4 storm and is barreling toward North Carolina’s coastline.
“There is still potential all this can change,” said Mike Petro with the National Weather Service in Raleigh during a teleconference with officials in 33 counties, including Wilson. “If it changes in any way, it’d probably be for the better because this is the worst case scenario.”
With 10 inches of rain or more anticipated for Wilson County, officials are urging folks to plan ahead, and if an area has previously flooded, anticipate a repeat if not worse.
“If the water usually comes up your driveway, but it doesn’t touch the house, you might be OK, but then again, we may get more rain than in the past,” said Wilson County Emergency Management Director Gordon Deno. “People need to be cognizant about the history of their residence. If it usually comes to your door step, you need to get out and do so preferably before it starts raining and the winds pick up.”
According to forecasts, winds and rain are anticipated to pick up Wednesday evening with strong gusts lasting 24 to 36 hours.
“The accumulation numbers look conservative to me, and some models show higher numbers, sometimes even double the 7 to 10 inches of rain expected,” Petro said. “If it is exactly what we’re showing now, we’ll still have flash flooding of creeks and streams, impassable low spots that always flood and river flooding, particularly in the eastern part of the state.”
Humans and pets
Counties at the coast have already ordered residents to flee, but Wilson County opted against serving as a shelter location for coastal evacuees.
“We’re a Tier 1 county, which means we’re one of the first ones to open a coastal evacuation shelter, but when a storm is predicted to hit the way it is, it is better for us to focus on sheltering our own citizens than adding people from other areas too,” Deno said.
Wilson County officials are expecting to open an emergency shelter on Wednesday night. Edgecombe County plans to open four shelters, and Nash County will open three shelters also on Wednesday.
While the shelter will have the new Critter Camper with space for 22 animals, evacuees will be required to not only have a rabies tag for all pets, but also a vaccination certificate. Pet owners also should take food, treats, toys and other supplies to shelters if necessary.
Many area hotels have already been flooded with reservations. And while most local establishments have temporarily lifted a ban on Wilsonians renting rooms to anticipate the hurricane, Deno reminded residents that hotels are private establishments and owners are not required to admit guests with pets if there is a policy against it. Social media has been flooded in recent days contradicting this, but federal law only requires governments to provide housing for pets, not private businesses.
“If it not safe for you to stay at home, it is not safe for your dog,” Deno said.
“If it not safe for you to be outside, it is not safe for your dog either.”
He recommended residents consider staying with relatives or friends who live out of the area.
“The emergency shelter is a shelter of last resort,” he said. “If people can, we want them to make other arrangements and get out of town before the storm hits, but we understand not everyone has that ability, so the shelter will be available.”
Officials with the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf announced students would be sent home Tuesday in anticipation of Hurricane Florence with no announcement when classes will resume.
Officials with Wilson County Schools said they are monitoring the storm and will make an announcement when necessary on schedule changes.
While most residents will be hunkered down at home during the storm, first responders will be working through the elements. Wilson police officers will start 12-hour shifts starting Tuesday with EMS, firefighters, utility crews and others expecting long days as the storm hits.
“When Floyd came through, I was here, and one of the volunteer fire departments called to say they put a tarp across the back of my house where the shingles were out, but said, ‘We couldn’t do nothing about your carport,’” Deno recalled. “I just asked what happened with the carport, and they said it was 100 yards away in a tobacco patch. I didn’t know about any of it because I was here.”
As the storm nears and weather worsens, first responders will be focused on life safety.
“If you have a non life-threatening issue, it can wait,” Deno said. “A tree on your house is an inconvenience, but if it didn’t bust a hole in your roof and you aren’t trapped, it doesn’t necessarily mean its a major problem. Emergency responders will be responding to emergencies, which could be rescuing people from attics or roofs in flooded areas or from inside collapsed houses.
“The first 72 is on you. So for at least three days, you need to be prepared to be self-sufficient. Make sure you have enough supplies to take care of yourself for at least three days.”
First thing Monday morning, residents headed to stores in search of supplies, food and water as Hurricane Florence inched closer.
Parking lots were packed at local grocery stores, supply chain stores and pharmacies. Carts were filled with snack foods, drinks, stacks of bottled water, canned goods and charcoal.
“It seems pretty strong from what they’re predicting,” said Kim Young of Sims. Young dropped her children off at school Monday before she hit the stores herself to get her family prepared.
And this time, they decided to invest in purchasing a generator.
“We will get our use out of this,” Young said as she pushed her Lowe’s cart. Young said anytime there is a bad storm, their neighborhood loses electricity. She also spent Monday purchasing water, snacks and cat and dog food.
Dozens of others filed into Lowe’s after lunch Monday where crowds gathered around several tables stocked with flashlights and batteries.
‘WE’RE SELLING SO FAST’
Vanessa Drew, Lowe’s manager in Wilson, said they’ve been busy nonstop since Sunday. She said from generators to gas cans to water and drop cords, people were purchasing a variety of items, including tarps.
“We’re selling so fast,” Drew said.
Drew said Lowe’s sold 200 generators Sunday alone. And as of 1:30 p.m. Monday, they had already sold 300 additional generators. A truckload of water headed into town Sunday night.
“We sold out of 70 cases of water today,” Drew said. She said another truckload of water is headed to Wilson as well as more batteries and lanterns.
“We’ve already got a truckload of plywood,” she said.
The main priority right now is “getting the community ready.” She said residents should listen to the warnings and prepare for the storm.
“I grew up at the beach and this is a big one,” she said. “The worst thing you can do is not get prepared. If it doesn’t come, then you are prepared for the next one. There’s three more storms behind this one.”
She said all their prices have been frozen since Saturday, meaning they won’t increase.
“If they go down, they go down,” she said. “But they won’t go up.”
Wayne Blevins, store manager at the Piggly Wiggly in Elm City, stocked the shelves with gallons of drinking water Monday morning. Blivens said water sales were up.
“From what I hear, everybody’s out,” Blivens said. “I ordered more than I need. I have another delivery coming this Thursday.”
Blivens also put up a sign by a pallet of water in the store for customers.
“With the storm approaching we appreciate that you are preparing yourself; however, please help keep in mind the others of the community and take only the necessary amount of water that you will need.”
Blivens said the store wasn’t restricting the amount of water customers could buy but just asked them to remember the needs of others.
Store employees were also passing out emergency supply lists provided by FEMA.
In preparation for the storm, Wilson Medical Center’s Emergency Management team is meeting several times daily to discuss logistics to support patient care, such as supplies, medicines, equipment, food, staffing and staff accommodations, said Wilson Medical Center spokeswoman Lisa Briley.
“The hospital also works with Wilson County Emergency Management and local agencies for up-to-date communication regarding storm readiness and to coordinate resources,” Briley said. “Communication with area hospitals, physician offices and transportation companies is in process as we plan for Hurricane Florence.”
Drew Wilson contributed to this report.
Emergency supply list
Water — 1 gallon per person per day for 3 to 7 days
Food – non-perishable and canned food supply for 3 to 7 days
Battery-powered or hand crank radio and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio with extra batteries
Cell phone with charger
First aid kit and first aid book
Flashlight and extra batteries
Manual can opener for food
Anti-bacterial hand wipes or gel
Wrench or pliers to turn off water
Blanket or sleeping bag — 1 per person
Prescription medications and glasses
Seasonal change of clothing, including sturdy shoes
Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, feminine supplies
Extra house and car keys
Important documents — insurance policies, copy of driver’s license, Social Security card, bank account records
Cash and change
Books, games or cards