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A shift in Hurricane Florence’s track could mean less damage to Wilson, but officials say we’re not in the clear.
“Keep in mind when Hurricane Harvey came ashore on the Texas coast, it was a very similar situation in that it slowed down, then looped around. These rain bands may only be 10 to 25 miles wide, but they are hundreds of miles long from the Atlantic through the whole area,” said Dave Wert, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Virginia. “They had areas of 6 or 8 or 10 or 12 inches of rain that were pretty widespread on the coast and they had areas as high as 40 to 60 inches of rain, and we’re not able to get a good approximation yet of where these bands will start aligning themselves.”
The region is expected to receive between 7-12 inches of rain with tropical storm winds of 39 to 74 mph, both gusts and sustained winds. Initial reports had the storm hitting Wilson late Wednesday, but a slowed speed and new weather models have the bulk of the storm on Friday and into the weekend. Nick Petro with the National Weather Service in Raleigh added that flooding is likely to be prolonged as the water heads downstream and rivers crest in the coming weeks.
“While there is a possibility it may shift south, it might shift more inland,” Petro said. “The bottom line is don’t give up and think there is nothing to worry about.”
Weather officials urge families to have a plan regarding where to go inside their home if high winds become a threat. Closets and bathrooms are the safest locations, according to the National Weather Service. Stay away from windows and exterior doors.
“North Carolina, my message is clear: Disaster is at the doorstep, and it’s coming in,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement. “If you’re on the coast, there is still time to get to safety. No possession is worth your life.”
There is ample fuel supply in the state, but state officials said Wednesday, there may be temporary shortages in some locations as people fill up their vehicles to evacuate. North Carolina’s price-gouging law is also in effect.
‘PLANNING IS KEY’
Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard said his office will activate its inclement weather plan at 1 p.m. Thursday, which will include deputies assigned to all substations — Elm City, Lucama, Saratoga and Sims — as well as the Animal Enforcement shelter and the sheriff’s office main headquarters.
“Planning is a key factor to Florence, and overall safety should be all of our goal,” he said.
Wilson police have already made contact with residents in several areas for pre-evacuation, including Greenbriar Mobile Home Park, as well as residents within the 500 to 600 block of Manchester Street. Other areas included Stephenson and Sims streets and Willow Springs, according to officials.
Sgt. Steve Stroud said there will be roughly three patrol teams working at any given time during the storm with buses from the school system placed in flood-prone areas in case of evacuations.
“We have made preparations for all officers that live out of town to stay in the city in case they can’t get back home,” Stroud said. “It is all hands on deck. All officers who are able to work will be working.”
Once the storm hits, though, law enforcement and other first responders will be focused on the preservation of life. For that reason, Stroud urged residents to take steps to guard against home burglaries during an evacuation.
“Honestly, there will be people monitoring Facebook, if people know you’re not home, there are some who would break in and take advantage of the situation,” he said. “Use normal crime prevention, keep your location off social media and do what you can to make it appear someone is home.”
Wilson County Emergency Management Director Gordon Deno said residents should make sure to shut off natural gas and water supplies before locking up and evacuating.
Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose signed a state of emergency proclamation Tuesday. City departments continued with preparation ahead of the storm, which could cause widespread power outages. Once the storm has passed, city crews will begin power restoration.
“Crews from Texas will be in Wilson to assist with electric outage restoration, if needed,” said Rebecca Agner, city of Wilson spokeswoman.
Greenlight Community Broadband also has contract crews standing by to assist with recovery operations.
“Greenlight’s first responsibility is supporting public safety and utility crews,” Agner said. “In the event of a widespread outage, Greenlight will focus on restoring radio communications and other core public safety systems. Once these systems are functioning, Greenlight will focus on the Automated Meter Infrastructure network and systems in support of power restoration.”
The stormwater department also made contact with residents in flood-prone areas in an effort to alert them to the projected heavy rainfall. The gates at Lake Wilson and Buckhorn Reservoir were opened to lower the lake levels and sandbags were put in place at Wiggins Mill and other pump stations that are prone to flooding.
All recreation practices have been canceled until further notice. Games scheduled for Saturday have been postponed, Agner said.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” said Petro.
WIND AND WHIRLIGIGS
At the Whirligig Station redevelopment project at the historic Hi-Dollar tobacco warehouse, workers pushed up dirt against plywood barricades as a protective measure against potential flooding that could occur along Kenan Street as Hurricane Florence comes ashore. About 96 apartments are being constructed inside the historic structure. Project manager Buddy Waskey said flooding has occurred on the basement level of the project while construction work on the street has been underway.
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park will be closed from 8 a.m. today until further notice, according to Jeff Bell, executive director of the park.
Updates on the park reopening will be at wilsonnc.org and wilson-co.com/.
Bell said he appreciated people’s concerns about the whirligigs at the park.
“During the conservation of the whirligigs, we took every precaution to ensure that they are as strong as they can be,” Bell said. “Unfortunately, it is rather impossible to move them to another location, so they will have to weather the storm.”
WAYS TO REPORT OUTAGES
• The city of Wilson continues to urge customers to sign up for text messaging notifications for outages.
• Residents can also report power outages via wilsonnc.org/outage/ or by calling 252-399-2200.
• Greenlight outages can be reported by calling 252-399-2200 and selecting options 3-2-2.
• The city’s “Fix It Wilson” app can also be downloaded where residents can report outages.
• Duke Energy customers can report outages at 1-800-419-6356 or online at duke-energy.com/outages/. Text message alerts also are available.
Callers who need info on shelters and other storm-related details can call the statewide information line by dialing 2-1-1 or 1-888-892-1162. That line is staffed around the clock to connect North Carolinians to storm resources.