Area businesses have been preparing for what is expected to be a low-level hurricane by the time Isaias, a tropical storm making its way up the East Coast, hits the Cape Fear region.
Members of the local business community have been urged to have plans in place to protect company assets and employees, according to Natalie English, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, who addressed the storm in a report Monday.
A hurricane warning has been issued for Southeastern North Carolina. Impacts are anticipated Monday evening and into early Tuesday, officials with the National Weather Service's Wilmington office said in a 1 p.m. briefing
The storm’s impacts are expected to include strong winds, power outages, some flooding and storm surge in the coastal areas and in downtown Wilmington, according to weather service forecasters. Sustained winds are anticipated between 50 and 70 miles per hour.
"The chamber believes the speed at which a company can get back to business after a disaster depends on your level of emergency preparation and advanced planning," English said Monday. "Before our business leaders leave today, we would encourage them to make a list of emergency contacts to help you stay in touch with employees, suppliers, and customers. We also encourage our members to communicate emergency plans with employees before and after the storm to ensure they know how to reach you."
The chamber also advised businesses to have an updated backup of all crucial data and to be aware of business insurance policies prior to a storm's arrival.
The Downtown Business Alliance was contacting new businesses and owners in the downtown area that have not experienced a hurricane in the past to help connect them with resources and help them team up with existing businesses that have experienced past storms, said Terry Espy, president of DBA.
Making the connections and having downtown support is essential during these times, she said, especially when so many businesses have already been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We had already anticipated some businesses closing because of COVID. We hope that this does not generate an additional spike in that," Espy said. "[The] COVID [crisis] has been very abnormal and in the middle of that, throwing in a hurricane, is potential to shut down businesses another week, two weeks ... so I would say it would be devastating, I just think the businesses that may be struggling already may be incentivized to relook at the way they are doing things even more."
New Hanover County's Emergency Management department has several resources to help individuals prepare and stay up to date during the storm, officials said.
Officials in communities across the region, including for New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, declared states of emergency Monday.
“What we can expect for our region has just been elevated to a low-level hurricane,” said Steven Still, New Hanover County's director of emergency management, in a BizTalk interview at noon Monday
“It is going to strengthen to a hurricane as it moves from Florida to Georgia, northward," Still said, adding that wind speeds have been hovering between 60 and 70 miles per hour, but when the storm reaches a 74-mile-per-hour threshold, that takes the storm back to a Category 1 hurricane.
Landfall is anticipated to be between Georgetown, South Carolina, and Shallotte, Still said. The storm’s winds, however, stretch to an area of about 150 miles wide. So, the Cape Fear area will feel the effects.
"Businesses should be putting their plans in place for closure and continuity of operations if needed, depending on their location and potential impacts they may face. Anyone with questions or in need of assistance can call the Emergency Public Information Hotline at 910-798-6800," county officials said in an email.
"Any disaster, from pandemics to weather events, impact businesses. Tropical Storm Isaias is expected to move out of the area fairly quickly, by Tuesday afternoon, so hopefully, we won’t see the kind of impact to businesses we did after previous storms or because of COVID-19," county officials added.
New Hanover County Schools announced that schools and administrative buildings would close Monday afternoon, according to a news release. Schools will be closed Tuesday for students and staff in "Plan C remote learning for schools in session," stated the release. Before the storm, year-round schools were slated to start the new year Tuesday. The University of North Carolina Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College also closed their campuses Monday.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center officials in a release Monday afternoon said the hospital is closing all non-emergency entrances at 7 p.m. as part of its storm preparations. The hospital has an exception for women in labor and a support person, and advised them to go to the entrance of NHRMC's Betty H.Cameron Women's & Children's Hospital at any time.
Emergency departments will remain open during the storm, NHRMC officials said. NHRMC Physician Group locations will not open for in-person visits before noon Tuesday.
And as the storm makes its way up the East Coast, others have made preparations.
The Wilmington International Airport has been preparing all weekend for the storm, Julie Wilsey, airport director, said in an email Monday.
Some flights were already canceled Monday. United Airlines’ last flight Monday was scheduled to take place just after 3 p.m., and American Airlines canceled its last four arrivals Monday night “and the corresponding departures tomorrow morning,” Wilsey said in a 12:30 p.m. update Monday, adding that at the time, Delta had not yet made any announcements.
"We have to wait until the airlines determine their last flights in/out to do the final prep on the ramp and parking lots. We will maintain essential staffing during the storm,” Wilsey said. “It is important for passengers to check directly with their airline if they have a flight today or tomorrow.”
Travelers can visit ILM’s website for airline contact information and other updates about the storm
N.C. Ports continues to monitor the storm, according to officials. There were no operations happening at the Port of Wilmington as of Monday afternoon, said Bethany Welch, spokeswoman for N.C. Ports.
N.C. Ports officials anticipate opening container cargo and general cargo facilities in Wilmington by 1 p.m. Tuesday. Ports officials said they would communicate any additional operations changes following the storm if necessary, stated an update Monday on its website