LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents on Monday were glued to news reports about Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm that is expected to slam into North Carolina on Thursday, bringing destruction far and wide.
If the forecast holds, it will be the most powerful hurricane to hit North Carolina since Hazel in 1954. In Robeson County, forecasts are for 5 to 7 inches of rain, but the bigger threat is wind, which could reach triple-digits here, bringing down trees and utility lines, according to the National Weather Service. Power companies say outages could take days to weeks to restore.
Those looking for a silver lining can find it in the Lumber River, which is about 6 feet below flood level. When Matthew arrived on Oct. 8, 2016, the river was at flood stage and rose to record levels. Florence is not expected to bring the same kind of flooding.
“I think this is very Harvey-esque,” University of Miami hurricane expert Brian McNoldy told The Associated Press, speaking about the hurricane that hit Texas in 2017 and caused $125 billion in damage, the most every by a storm. “Normally, a land-falling tropical cyclone just keeps on going inland, gradually dissipating and raining itself out. But on rare occasions, the steering patterns can line up such that a storm slips into a dead zone between troughs and ridges.”
At 5 p.m. on Monday, Florence was about 1,100 miles from Wilmington moving northwest at about 14 mph. It had sustained winds of 140 mph and gusts of 165 and was expected to become a Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday, fueled by warm Atlantic waters.
City and county officials huddled Monday and their message was the same, for residents to prepare and expect the worst. There is information on page 3A of today’s newspaper on how to prepare.
“We are monitoring the storm very closely,” said Stephanie Chavis, director of Emergency Management for the county.
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 has 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.
Harris signed a County State of Emergency order Monday morning, Chavis said. The order states that if an emergency situation should arise because of Hurricane Florence all county agencies are to put themselves under the Emergency Management’s command and operate under the rules, regulations and guidelines set forth in the county’s emergency response plan.
“It’s something the state says we have to have in place,” Chavis said.
The Emergency Management office had three conference calls Monday with the state Emergency Management office and the National Weather Service, Chavis said.
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.”
Duke Energy was reading from the same script.
“The company expects widespread damage and power outages as Hurricane Florence is forecasted to be a large and extremely dangerous storm system, packing fierce winds and torrential rainfall,” the company said in a statement. “Historical data and company experience indicate that total power restoration from a storm of this magnitude could take multiple days to several weeks — depending on the extent of damage and post-storm conditions, such as ongoing high winds and severe flooding, after the storm passes though the region.”
Duke asked people to call the following numbers if they see downed power lines: 800-769-3766 or 800-419-6356.
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. The schools are expected to make a decision on Tuesday.
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.
Some shoppers looking for water came up dry in stores. Lowe’s Foods on Fayetteville Road had sold 10 pallets of water by noon on Sunday and was out.
“It’s really been crazy,” said Randy Nance, store manager. “We’re selling bread, and water is the biggest thing. We’ve sold everything we have, and we’re trying to get more now.”
Canned food and nonperishable items were big sellers at Lowe’s foods, and across town competitor IGA was in the same fix, selling Vienna sausages and canned goods as well as the bread and water.
“Last night we had five pallets, and we sold two or three in 30 minutes,” said Laniqua Mayes, assistant manager. “We’re expecting more water today. We’re selling a lot of ice, too.”
Gasoline is another potential need during a hurricane, and Adel Salem with Liberty Gas on Fayetteville Road said its sales had been strong.
Customer Felicia Kyle knew what her plans were.
“People just get back in their house and pray,” Kyle said. “The Lord will have his way. We can ask to make it cease. All we can do is pray.”
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or [email protected]