LUMBERTON — Gov. Roy Cooper announced a State of Emergency late Wednesday afternoon for the entire state of North Carolina ahead of Hurricane Irma’s possible impact.
The State of Emergency is effective as of 8 a.m. Thursday.
“You need to start preparing for some type of impact,” Cooper said.
County and city leaders, aas well as local residents are doing just that.
County preparations now include discussion of opening shelters for people seeking safety should Irma, a Category 5 storm now stalking the Caribbean, comes to Robeson County. Spaghetti models were all over the place on Wednesday, but most showed them having some kind of effect on Robeson County in the middle of next week, with landfall somewhere in South Florida this weekend. Most models had the county in the range of receiving 4 to 6 inches of rain, but that could vary widely depending on the storm’s exact track.
“Friday we’ll make a decision on what shelters will be opened, based on what we know about Irma’s track,” said Stephanie Chavis, county Emergency Management director.
County high schools will be considered first as possible shelters, she said, because of their size and their positioning throughout the county.
Whether or not shelters will be needed still is uncertain.
“At this point in time we don’t know,” Chavis said.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday the storm was lashing the Caribbean Islands with heavy rain and maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and moving west-northwest at 16 mph toward Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In the meantime, county personnel continue to check supplies to make sure enough is on hand to properly respond to a weather emergency, Chavis said. Vehicles are being checked and a two-week supply of gasoline for them already is in stock.
“We’re just covering the basic needs and making sure those things are done,” Chavis said.
City departments are reviewing contingency plans, said Bill French, Lumberton’s Emergency Management director.
“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he said.
French and Chavis believe the area is in better shape to handle any heavy rainfall Irma might bring. The main reason for this belief is the current water level in the Lumber River, which was at 8.11 feet on Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. The river was at its 13-foot flood stage when Hurricane Matthew struck on Oct. 8, 2016.
The city is in better shape to handle possible heavy rain from Irma than it was for Matthew’s rain, French said. And Matthew is one reason why.
“If Matthew did anything, it cleared out alot of the canals,” French said. “Many of them are in better shape than when Matthew hit.”
That includes culverts under Interstate 95 and N.C. 211, which were flushed of buildup of sand.
Chavis said she is more worried about the possibility of strong winds and tornadoes.
“If we don’t get alot of rain we’ll be all right,” she said.
She said that as it was raining heavily.
On Wednesday, 1.84 inches of rain had fallen on Lumberton as of 5 p.m., according to the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, and some streets were showing signs of flooding.That recalled Matthew, when flooding was made worse by a visit six weeks earlier by Tropical Storm Hermine.
The county forecast calls for sunny to partly sunny skies and high temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s through Sunday afternoon. Tropical storm conditions are possible Sunday night and showers are possible through Monday night.
But it’s still to early to tell what Irma will do, French said.
“There are alot of different scenarios,” he said.
Residents are getting ready. A quick survey of local businesses on Wednesday showed residents are buying food and other supplies in preparation for the worst. That includes lines at gasoline stations, where the cost of gasoline has risen significantly in recent says, a result of Hurricane Harvey’s strike on Texas and the shutting down of oil refineries.
“We are sold out of generators, gas cans, water, sandbags, boots and rain gear,” said Brenda Hall, store manager at Agri Supply of Lumberton.”
She is hoping for more gas cans to arrive by week’s end, Hall said.
Water was the big seller at Walmart Neighborhood Market on East Elizabethtown Road in Lumberton.
The store is expecting a shipment of water and bread Thursday.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974. Staff writer Reid Beaman contributed to this report.