With Hurricane Florence now a Category 2 storm as of 3 p.m. on Thursday, New Hanover County officials emphasize that it is still a major hurricane capable of bringing dangerous winds and storm surges.
Hurricane winds of 60 miles per hour are expected to start in New Hanover County at about 7 p.m. on Thursday, said Steven Still, county emergency management and 911 director in a hurricane briefing Thursday morning.
That wind speed is expected to increase to 70 miles per hour by 9 p.m., Still said.
By Friday, winds are expected to be at 100 miles per hour, which will endure for a considerable amount of time.
Landfall is expected to take place around 8 a.m. on Friday at Wrightsville Beach. After landfall, the storm will remain in the Wilmington region for 24 hours, he said.
Storm surges of 9-10 feet are expected for the New Hanover County area.
Rain accumulation of 20-30 inches is expected in the county, according to the National Weather Service.
During the storm, residents are being urged to stay indoors in a safe place. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said in the briefing that emergency personnel will not be available until the storm passes.
“We are not going to be able to come out and get you if you have an emergency while the storm is underway,” Saffo said. “You are going to have to wait for the storm to pass before we can get our emergency vehicles and emergency personnel to you, so please everybody, hunker down, stay safe.”
According to a NWS news release at 1 p.m. on Thursday, life-threatening flooding is expected with the storm.
Flooding may be worsened by elevated tide levels due to storm surge working into creeks and streams, limiting the ability of creeks and streams to handle runoff, states the release. Significant flooding is likely to be observed in areas that have not experienced flooding in the past, including areas not in flood zones.
According to NWS river forecasts as of 1 p.m. on Thursday, moderate flooding is expected on the coast of Wilmington with minor flooding closer to inland Wilmington. The forecast, however, is calling for major flooding of the Northeast Cape Fear River near Burgaw.
Town of Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said in the briefing that the town has completed its evacuation.
“We have completed our evacuation. If you go over there today, we were over there this morning, there is literally nobody on the beach,” Blair said. “A lot of boarded houses, a lot of boats out off the water. We feel we are in pretty good shape.”
New Hanover County Chairman Commissioners Woody White said there are currently 515 residents in county shelters. More than 200 residents were transported to shelters outside the county.
While the storm is not here yet, there are already plans for damage estimates.
“Planning is already underway to conduct damage assessments for recovery efforts after the storm passes,” White said.
Many area businesses have decided to close or remain open as the storm gets closer.
The Brunswick County Nuclear Plant in Southport will be shut down as the two plant units are expected to experience hurricane force winds, according to a Duke Energy news release.
Operators and other employees will remain on-site throughout the storm to monitor wind and rainfall as well as plant equipment.
The release states that the nuclear plant has many layers of protection, including emergency pumps and generators for power backup.
As of Thursday, at 3 p.m., there were 98 customers affected by power outages in New Hanover County, according to the Duke Energy website.
There were 57 customers affected by power outages in Brunswick County and 1,280 in Pender County.
Some Wilmington restaurants that decided to open on Thursday were busy with customers.
The Harp, an Irish restaurant and pub on South Third Street, was open as of Thursday afternoon. Attempts to speak with restaurant workers were not successful considering how busy they were.
While New Hanover Regional Medical Center was closed for visitors as of Wednesday, part of the antepartum, labor and delivery team remained at the hospital to take care of patients, according to the hospital’s Facebook post.