Extreme storm surge, flooding as Florence lingers

Published 12:21 am Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A hurricane warning was issued Tuesday for all of eastern North Carolina, from the South Carolina border to Duck. With the warning comes the expectation of hurricane force winds and a storm surge of 6 to 9 feet up the Pamlico and Pungo rivers, followed by flooding from torrential rain that could last until Sunday.

“It is close enough now, from the intelligence that the National Weather Service is telling us, we know that it is going to hit us,” said Beaufort County Emergency Services Director Carnie Hedgepeth. “This is a dangerous storm. This a large storm. We do believe it is unprecedented for us here.”

Hedgepeth updated local officials and other community stakeholders Tuesday afternoon at the Beaufort County Health Department, sharing the agency’s storm preparation in the lead up to the event.

The Category 4 Florence is expected to make landfall between Wilmington and Morehead late Thursday night or early Friday morning.

“You will go to bed seeing one thing and when you wake up, you’ll see a different story,” Hedgepeth said.

Though Florence’s track and intensity have not varied much over the past several days, it has slowed down, moving the expected landfall to overnight Thursday, instead of Wednesday. According to NWS forecasters, that slowing trend will continue, leaving Beaufort County to experience not only the initial Category 4 impact, but several days of tropical storm conditions.

“We are looking at rain totals at being around 15 inches,” Hedgepeth said.

Emergency Services, on the heels of the voluntary evacuation for all county occupants on Monday, issued a mandatory evacuation for those who live in low-lying, flood-prone areas. Hedgepeth said evacuations need to be complete by sunset on Wednesday, as the effects of Florence may be felt as early as then. Emergency services has opened a shelter at Washington High School and will be providing bus transportation to the shelter throughout the day today (see sidebar, upper right). Emergency officials continue to seek an out-of-county backup shelter, which is proving difficult due to the sheer size of Florence — every county in North Carolina stands to affected by the storm. Those seeking at WHS are asked to prepare for seven days in the shelter. Bedding, cots and food will be provided at the shelter.

“Where is our shelter beyond this county? That’s still being worked on. It’s not just our county; it’s every county in the east asking the same question,” Hedgepeth said.

The agency has requested a mobile 911 dispatching center in anticipation of the e-911 call center in the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office flooding. The calls will be rolled over with the flip of a switch to a call center in Catawba County, in the mountains of North Carolina.

Hedgepeth said sustained 55 mph winds will felt across the county and gusts of up to 130 mph, especially on initial impact.

“Take the amount of rain with the high winds — trees will go down,” he said.

He encouraged people to download the readync.org app that will provide updates, real-time traffic conditions, nearby power outages, open shelters, counties being evacuated, real-time stream and flooding information and more.

For the latest updates on Hurricane Florence coverage, visit thewashingtondailynews.com.