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As Hurricane Florence Strengthens, Community Prepares

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Sep 10, 2018
Forecasters with the National Weather Service are predicting that Hurricane Florence will hit the Southeast coast as a major hurricane. (Image from NWS)
Officials across Southeastern North Carolina are closely watching Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 hurricane, as it continues to build strength in the Atlantic Ocean, with track patterns potentially making a direct impact on the Carolina coast.

Hurricane Florence could be headed to the Wilmington area by Thursday, according to the latest report from the National Weather Service of Wilmington.

Area businesses, governments and educational institutions are preparing for the impending storm, which became a major hurricane Monday.

South Carolina officials on Monday issued a mandatory evacuation of an estimated 1 million coastal residents in the state to take effect at noon Tuesday. As of press time, North Carolina officials had not made a similar announcement. 

The Wilmington International Airport and Port of Wilmington are monitoring the storm, officials said Monday.

Julie Wilsey, airport director at ILM, said in an email that flights are operating on time and there had been no changes reported for the airlines as of 11 a.m. Staff members are currently working on preparations for the storm, Wilsey said, and more details could be released Tuesday.

N.C. Ports were also operating under normal business hours late morning, Bethany Welch, spokeswoman for N.C. Ports said in an email. The Port of Wilmington terminal will operate extended container gate hours, including refrigerated cargo, Monday and Tuesday, according to N.C. Ports' Twitter account.

"Wilmington's container gate will be open until 7 p.m. for pickup and drop-off Monday, and import or empty pickup only on Tuesday," port officials said in the update.

The storm is expected to affect events throughout the week that were planned in the Wilmington area. Officials organizing the N.C. Realtors Convention & Expo set for this weekend and into next week in Wilmington, Xchange '18, were also among those monitoring the hurricane's status Monday.

"We expect to be able to provide more information to our attendees, sponsors, exhibitors and others later in the week," the N.C. Realtors website stated Monday afternoon. "We appreciate your patience." 

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority staff members are making preparations ahead of Hurricane Florence, including readying utilty vehicles, generators and other resources that are needed to be made available during the storm, said Peg Hall Williams, spokeswoman for the CFPUA, in an email

"Additionally, we are prepositioning equipment and personnel and are prepared to activate the Emergency Comand Center this week. This is procedure for weather-related events, and CFPUA conducts training to prepare for events such as Hurricane Florence," she said.

Duke Energy officials said that operator and emergency response personnel at the Brunswick Nuclear and Sutton plants maintain a "high level or readiness to respond to issues," including hurricanes.

"Procedures are in place to prepare and respond to events ... When storms are predicted, we begin making preparations for our plant sites and personnel. Our meteorologists closely track the path of the storm and keep the plants advised fo any changing conditions," Duke Energy spokeswoman Karen Williams said.

The University of North Carolina Wilmington is also making preparations. The university announced Monday afternoon that the campus will be under a mandatory evacuation starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Students are required to leave campus no later than noon Tuesday. 

Cape Fear Community College is scheduled to close all campus locations at 5 p.m. Monday. Its campuses will remain closed to students, faculty and most staff members through Saturday.

New Hanover County and Brunswick County schools will be closed Tuesday through Friday because of the hurricane, for students and most staff members.

New Hanover and Brunswick counties each declared a state of emergency Monday.

“Hurricane Florence is expected to be a major hurricane with direct impacts in New Hanover County,” Steven Still, New Hanover's emergency management director, said in a news release. “A state of emergency declaration provides the county with additional powers, and expedites the mobilization of emergency management resources that may be necessary to rescue, evacuate, shelter and provide essential commodities to our community.”

Brunswick County offices will close at 5 p.m. Tuesday. New Hanover offices are slated to close at noon Tuesday.

A mandatory evacuation is in place for Brunswick County residents in low-lying and flood-prone areas, or in mobile or substandard homes. That will take effect at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Brunswick County officials said in a notice Monday. A voluntary evacuation will be in effect for all other residents.

Shelters will open in Brunswick County for those who are unable to leave the county.

"Shelters will be opening in inland counties, and we encourage citizens to seek shelter outside of Brunswick County," officials said.

Brunswick County’s veteran’s services tour events have been canceled.

“Brunswick County is monitoring Hurricane Florence, and encourages all citizens to continue taking steps to prepare and plan, including checking supplies of non-perishable food, water and prescription medicines, signing up for emergency alerts, and reviewing evacuation plans,” county officials said in an email.

A Category 4 hurricane has sustained winds between 130 to 156 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters said Monday that the highest rainfall totals across Southeastern North Carolina are anticipated to be between 5 to 11 inches. These totals, however, are dependent on the track of the hurricane, which is subject to change as more updates follow this week.

"Further strengthening is anticipated, and Florence is expected to be an extremely dangerous major hurricane through Thursday," forecasters said in their 11 a.m. report.

“This amount of rainfall is expected to lead to flooding, especially near low-lying and flood-prone areas. In addition, rivers in the basins hit by the heaviest rain would experience flooding as well,” officials said in the 11 a.m. briefing.
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