LUMBERTON — Hurricane Florence this morning remained a powerful Category 4 story with its eyes on North Carolina, but the forecast track has been shifting slightly northward, which could be good news for Robeson County.
Weather experts, however, continued to warn that the forecast “cone” is a best a guess, and that landfall could occur anywhere from northeastern South Carolina to northeastern North Carolina.
At 5 a.m. today, the storm was located 975 miles from Wilmington and was moving west-northwest at 15 mph at maximum sustained winds of 140 mph. Florence, which is expected to become a Cat 5 hurricane today, is projected to hit North Carolina either very late Thursday or early Friday. Robeson County is expected to start feeling tropical-storm force winds at about 8 a.m. Thursday.
At that point, forecasters seem to agree, it will lose power but turn into a massive tropical storm that will drop double-digit amounts of rain in certain areas of the state. Robeson County, which suffered massive flooding when Hurricane Matthew hit on Oct. 8, 2016, is much better positioned for a lot of rain this time because the Lumber River is about 6 feet below flood level. When Matthew hit the river was already at flood level.
Current models show Robeson County getting 5 to 7 inches of rain.
The larger problem locally is the potential for high winds that will drop trees and power lines, causing widespread outages. The National Hurricane Center’s tracking map this morning showed Robeson experience top winds in the 80 to 90 mph range.
“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.”
County officials met this morning and decided that there would be shelters at Lumberton High, Purnell Swett High, St Pauls High and Fairmont Middle schools and they will open at noon on Thursday. Cats and dogs will not be allowed at the shelters, and should be boarded somewhere. The St. Pauls Animal Shelter is prepared to accept pets for a fee.
Officials with Duke Energy and Lumber River Electric Membership Corporation were preparing for outages that could extend beyond days and into weeks.
Duke Energy on Monday issued the following statement: “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. 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.”
Classes have already been canceled beginning today at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and the Public Schools of Robeson County. At UNCP, students are being advised to leave campus and return home.
Shanita Wooten, superintendent of the public schools, said classes will be suspended today at 3 p.m. and will not resume until next week at the earliest. Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, which is in the Innovative School District, will also be closed Wednesday through Friday.
Tuesday night’s school board meeting has been canceled.
Robeson Community College will suspend classes for the rest of the week beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday.
At Southeastern Regional Medical Center, visitors will be limited beginning at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12 to those patients deemed medically necessary by a team of clinicians. Examples of patients who may be allowed to have one family member present may include critically ill individuals, children, senior citizens and expectant mothers. Visitors will be required to sign in with security personnel in the main lobby.
Emergency department patients will be limited to one family member per patient, however exceptions may be made depending upon the seriousness of the condition of the patient.
“We certainly want to be sensitive to issues related to the health status of our most critical patients and will assess appropriate numbers of visitors for these patients on a case-by-case basis,” said SeHealth Director of Guest Services Alisia Oxendine.
Family members of patients may contact SeHealth Guest Services at 910-671-5592 or 910-671-5000 for assistance to support patients’ families throughout the emergency situation.
Beginning Thursday the SRMC cafeteria will be open only for SRMC staff who are on duty.
One town has announced a curfew. St. Pauls is asking residents to stay off the street beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday and continuing until sunrise the next day, and those curfew hours will continue until further notice,.
Local grocery stores are reporting shortages of such items as water, bread and milk and were working to restock their shelves. There were also reportedly runs on gasoline, but it is available.
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or [email protected]