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Ready for Florence? As storm bears down, no time to be wasted

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We won’t know the details until the end of the week, but we already know the story line: We’re going to get hit — hard — by a big, bad hurricane named Florence. The storm will cause enormous damage. The only unresolved question is where the mayhem will be the worst. And we know it will be a miracle if there is no loss of life.

For anyone in eastern North Carolina, there’s no ducking. This storm will affect your life. No matter how well you’ve prepared, inconveniences will range from minor to life-altering. Remember what happened when Hurricane Matthew dumped about 15 inches of rain on us two years ago? Forecasters are warning that Florence could be even wetter in places. Trouble is, they’re not yet sure where. But they do expect that the storm will stall for a few days after it makes landfall, quite possibly creating the same sort of flooding that Hurricane Harvey brought to Houston last year.

That’s reason enough to remember some of those hard lessons we learned in 2016. The first one is this: If you see rising water around your home, leave. Get to higher ground. Get to a safe place, like a shelter. If you live in a low-lying area that typically floods in severe storms, you might as well save yourself some panic and leave before the storm hits.

And if you’re out driving when the flooding gets bad, remember the cardinal rule for inundated roads: If you can’t see the bottom, turn around and find another way to get to your destination. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the power of fast-moving floodwater. It can sweep you off your feet — and it can just as easily sweep you away if you’re driving a big, heavy truck or SUV.

We’ll assume at this point that you’ve already stocked up on nonperishable food, water, medical necessities, batteries and flashlights, emergency radios, a way to cook that doesn’t require electricity, and all the other things that we all try to get done before a big storm arrives. If you haven’t, don’t waste another minute — get it done.

But the most important advice we can give is this: Be a good neighbor. Check in on your neighbors, especially if they’re elderly or suffering from any illnesses or other limiting conditions. Be prepared to help out, whether it’s sharing some food, helping clear fallen trees, spreading a tarp over a damaged roof or any of the countless other issues that arrive during severe weather. Take care of each other.

And don’t forget to take care of your animals, too. You may have “outside” cats or dogs, but don’t ask them to fend for themselves during extreme weather. Bring them in and give them shelter too. Make sure you’ve got plenty of food stocked up for them and enough water to keep their bowls full. If you have to evacuate, you may be able to take your pets with you — some shelters allow them.

Use your smartphone to keep up with the storm as it arrives and moves through our area. The National Weather Service is accessible online, as are many radio and television stations. The Observer will keep its website updated with storm information and we’re allowing unlimited access to the website and our E-Edition during the storm.

And when the storm passes, we’ll all take stock of what happened, assessing how our infrastructure handled all the stormwater (about as well as last time, we’ll guess in advance) and how the state and federal emergency-management and disaster-recovery teams have learned the lessons of Hurricane Matthew and all of last year’s cataclysmic hurricanes.

And we’ll wonder — as we have for a while now — whether this dramatic increase in intense tropical storms is simply our new normal.

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