Florence’s worry more wet than wind

LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents, hunkered down and awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Florence, awakened to what appeared to good news this morning, that the hurricane some feared would hit North Carolina as a Category 4 or 5 storm, had weakened to a Cat 2.’

But the latest track also has it coming downs the U.S. 74 corridor, making parts of southern Robeson very vulnerable. And winds as high as 75 mph could hit Robeson early Friday. Kellie Blue, the assistant county manager, said this morning that the worst of the storm is expected Friday.

Florence is a bit tardy in getting here, with its effects locally expected to begin being felt around noon. But when it arrives, it will hang around, pounding the county with winds that will likely knock out power as well as rain that will cause flash flooding, and surely provoke memories of Matthew in 2016.

Emergency officials say despite its weakened state, the storm is massive and will cause problems throughout North Carolina and South Carolina, before heading inland in South Carolina this weekend and taking a trot northward.

The National Guard has arrived to help and is stationed at the National Guard Armory on Fayetteville Road.

“Most of us deployed about a week and a half ago,” said Lt. Mike Porter,.

The battalion’s main concern is making sure they have the supplies needed to help out during the storm.

“We are making sure we have transportation, water and food,” Porter said. “It’s a collective effort across the state.”

Hurricane Matthew was a learning experience for the National Guard, said Command Sgt. Major Sid Baker.

“I was part of the leadership team,” Baker said Thursday. “We have to reflect on the learning points from the experience to further ready ourselves and be positioned to respond to the needs of the North Carolina residences.”

Four shelters opened in Robeson County this morning, at Lumberton High, St. Pauls High, Purnell Swett and Fairmont Middle schools. Almost 400 had checked in by about 10 a.m.

Many businesses are shut down, and schools are out for students in the public schools, Robeson Community College and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

More than 40,000 utility workers from 17 states are reportedly in North Carolina and South Carolina ready to restore electricity. Millions of customers are expected to be plunged into the dark.

The storm was approximately 205 miles southeast of Wilmington at 5 a.m. today and was moving northwest at about 15 mph. It has maximum sustained winds of about 11o mph.

It is expected to make landfall just south of Wilmington, stall and then head south and through South Carolina before making a turn northward.

Emergency officials warn, however, because it is moving slow and is expected to stall that areas, including Robeson County, will be feeling its effects through the weekend. It could spawn tornadoes.

County emergency officials have been meeting daily at the Emergency Operations Center on Legend Road to prepare and share key information.

“The good news is the storm appears to be turning south and the wind may be less intense,” said Raymond Cummings, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, on Wednesday. “However, that means we will have more rain than previously expected — anywhere from 10 to 30 inches.”

All county department heads and many emergency and law enforcement personnel will be in the center. The emergency communication plan also will kick in.

“We are encouraging residents to sign up to our CodeRed alert system,” said Emily Jones, county public information officer. “We will also use social media and all other media to spread the word.”

CodeRed is a high-speed communications system for sending mass messages via phone, text message and email. Go to https://www.co.robeson.nc.us/ to sign up.

CodeRed advised people on Wednesday that first responders will not go out when winds are in excess of 45 mph.

Patrick Cummings, director of Emergency Medical Services for Robeson County, said there were many lessons learned from Hurricane Matthew.

“There will be a delay in the 911 response once the storm does make landfall and during the storm,” Cummings said.

Many of the calls come from the sick and many of those calls are about oxygen supplies or critical prescription medication.

“We advise people to contact their vendor for backup oxygen and don’t forget to fill prescription before the storm,” Cummings said.

The EMS director advised people to remain in place even after the storm passes and not to travel unnecessarily.

“We ask that you stay in because that just increases the call volume for us,” Cummings said. “It limits our ability to respond and strains the hospitals.”

Officials with Duke Energy and Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation were preparing for outages that could extend into weeks.

Duke Energy warned that Florence could cut off power to anywhere from 1 million to 3 million customers in North Carolina and South Carolina, potentially leaving them without electricity for several weeks, spokeswoman Grace Rountree said.

“We’ve got 20,000 people marshalled to respond to the storm,” said Bill Norton, a Duke Energy spokesman. “These are boots on the ground.”

The extra help has been pulled from Florida, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, all Duke Energy service area. Duke Energy also has called in help from the Southeastern Electric Exchange.

They have been positioned throughout the Carolinas in order to enable them to respond quickly to hard-hit areas.

Walter White, a spokesman for LREMC, said 65 extra linemen have been called in, from Alabama, Ohio and Tennessee. He said they have 40 right-of-way crews to remove fallen trees and branches from roadways.

Local officials continue to say they think the Lumber River, which is 6 feet shy of the level it was at for Hurricane Matthew, will be able to absorb rain without massive flooding. City officials spent part of Wednesday fortifying the water plant, which was swamped by Matthew.

Flash floods, however, are expected. Swiftwater rescue units are on standby, and the Lumberton Rescue Squad has a trained team that got experience during Matthew.

President Donald Trump declared states of emergency in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina on Tuesday, opening the way for federal aid. Georgia was added later to that declaration.

At the White House, he urged people to “get out of its way.”

“Don’t play games with it. It’s a big one,” he said.

Mike Ivey fills one in a long line of propane tanks Wednesday morning at Quality Oil and Gas Co. on West Fifth Street in Lumberton. Tommy Hendren, middle, was next in line. “I’m not afraid,” Hendren said. “But I think it will be bad. Water will be the problem.”
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_florence-propane-line-reduce_ne2018912114640789-10.jpgMike Ivey fills one in a long line of propane tanks Wednesday morning at Quality Oil and Gas Co. on West Fifth Street in Lumberton. Tommy Hendren, middle, was next in line. “I’m not afraid,” Hendren said. “But I think it will be bad. Water will be the problem.”
Florence’s landfall now projected for SC


Donnie Douglas




Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or [email protected] Staff writers Scott Bigelow and Annick Joseph contributed to this story.