LUMBERTON — Robeson County officials this morning were preparing for the possibility that Hurricane Florence, a dangerous hurricane that is getting more dangerous, could hit here later this week.
Both county and city emergency officials said they were watching the story and urging residents to prepare. There is a list of items and things to do elsewhere in this paper today.
Some local grocery stores already were reporting that their shelves had been emptied of bread and water.
Florence was about 625 miles southeast of Bermuda as of 5 a.m. today. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph and was moving west-northwest at about 9 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center said.
The center of the hurricane was forecast to move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the southeastern coast of the U.S. on Thursday as a Category 3 storm or higher, according to the center.
Most spaghetti models had North Carolina beginning to feel its effects Wednesday with the storm making landfall in North Carolina on Thursday, possibly as a Category 3 or even 5 storm, and hanging around Friday and perhaps into Saturday.
The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have all declared states of emergency.
In a county fresh with memories of Hurricane Matthew’s strike in October 2016, there was one bit of good news. When Matthew hit, the Lumber River was already at flood stage, and its banks could not handle the 18 inches or so of rain that fell on Oct. 8 of that year. The river now is several feet short of flood stage so it will be able to take what is expected to be lots of rain before spilling over its banks.
The other major threat is the wind that will topple trees and cause power outages.
Forecasters had been careful to say that hurricane tracks are hard to predict days in advance, but now are saying Florence appears glued to a worst-case scenario path.
“There is an increasing risk of life-threatening impacts from Florence: Storm surge at the coast, freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event inland and damaging hurricane-force winds,” the National Hurricane Center said in a statement today.
City and county officials huddled today to begin preparing for the storm.
Emily Jones, a spokesperson for the county, said representatives from Emergency Management, the Sheriff’s Office, state Highway Patrol, local municipalities, and the Social Services and Health departments attended. She said another meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.
She said people who don’t have CodeRed alerts should go the county website and apply.
Hurricane preparation is very important at this time,” Jones said. “Please make sure that you contact all individuals you know that might need help prior to the storm.”
County Manager Ricky Harris said the decision had been made to use Lumberton High and Purnell Swett High schools as shelters, but when they would be opened depends on the storm’s arrival and will be announced later.
High winds are likely to topple trees and causes power outages, and utilities were preparing.
”Based on the current forecast we do anticipate an impact to our service area from Hurricane Florence,” said Walter White, a spokesman for Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation. “At this point, it is still too early to know exactly what that impact may be, but regardless, we are ensuring all vehicles and equipment are in proper working order and making contacts with our various support groups for additional help and materials should that be necessary.
“We strongly encourage all our members to stay up to date on the forecast for this storm. Be sure and follow the guidance of our state and local Emergency Preparedness organizations … . This hurricane has the potential to be very dangerous and everyone’s safety is our No. 1 priority.”
The storm was forcing classes to be cancelled at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Methodist University in Fayetteville. No decision had been made at Robeson Community College or the Public Schools of Robeson County as of 2:30 p.m. today.
UNCP will cancel all classes beginning Wednesday and through Saturday. The university in a statement said it is encouraging students to leave campus when classes end on Tuesday. The university will be operating on Condition 1 on Tuesday, which means classes are in session and the university is open, but some operations may be reduced.
“Employees should make a good faith effort to report to work,” the statement read. “However, the university recognizes that factors such as transportation, school closings and other arrangements are considerations.”
Methodist University will close Tuesday at 8 a.m. to allow students time to travel home ahead of the storm and will remain closed until further notice. Beginning Tuesday, all campus events and athletic events scheduled for the week are canceled.
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or [email protected]