Local, state leaders, make final preparations for Hurricane Florence

Local, state leaders, make final preparations for Hurricane Florence

Local leaders in Kinston and Lenoir County, along with Gov. Roy Cooper, deliberate during a briefing held Tuesday at Spirit’s Emergency Management Eastern Branch Tuesday. Submitted photo

Projections for Hurricane Florence have softened a bit locally, but damage estimates are still high.

Throughout Wednesday, local and state leaders collaborated to update the public regarding Florence, which as of this writing is projected to shift further south than previously forecast. According to the National Weather Service of Newport and Morehead City, the hurricane will approach the state’s coast Thursday night, but moving further toward South Carolina.

Even though the projections have changed slightly, Lenoir County Emergency Services Director Roger Dail said it’s imperative the public stays vigilant.

“Do not let your guard down,” Dail said. “Does it look better for us from a wind standpoint? Absolutely. What I think needs to be said is that it can change back to the north just as quickly as it changed to the south. We do anticipate flash flooding and as a rule of thumb, if your area was flooded during Hurricane Matthew, you’re (more than likely to be) flooded during this one.”

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper came to Spirit’s Emergency Management Eastern Branch for a meeting with local officials. Cooper said there have been progressive measures taken while preparing for what could still be a disaster for Kinston and Lenoir County.

“Hurricane Florence is only hours away and we’re working busily, making preparations to make sure people are safe and secure,” Cooper said. “Shelters are opening all over North Carolina, we’re working to move people from evacuation areas to those shelters and want to continue to send a message that this monster of a storm is not one to ride out. We are looking at a storm surge of a magnitude where the National Weather Service said the damage is going to be unbelievable.

“The storm is so intense, we’re doing things a little bit different this time in that we’re distributing supplies and equipment (beforehand) because we know it’s going to be difficult immediately after the storm. We’re ready for our recovery and response, and we’ll wait for the storm to get here. Hopefully, it’ll be less of an impact as possible, but we’re going to hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

Cooper said he was briefed on the rainfall and flooding in the area, especially pertaining to Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“One of the positive things we ‘ve learned from past hurricanes, including Matthew, is that we’re able to do modeling to tell more specifically what areas are likely to be flooded,” Cooper said. Already, local authorities are responding to that information, barricading some areas off (and) telling people they need to leave certain areas.

“Just yesterday, on 9/11, we honored our first responders. We want to make sure people are out of harm’s way because we don’t want to endanger the lives of our first responders. We’re telling people (who are) ignoring evacuation orders that not only are you putting your own life at risk, you’re putting the lives of first responders at risk and that’s not right.”

Lenoir County Commissioner J. Mac Daughety said the community will be in good hands after hearing the information provided in the briefing.

“We have a very well-prepared emergency management team and a bipartisan effort to protect the citizens,” Daughety said. “I think the citizens are in good hands and based on the situation at this moment, we’re not going to have the anticipated damage in the beginning but still in the Matthew range. The citizens need to be very vigilant and probably in seven to 10 days we’ll have significant flooding, so those in low-lying areas need to make preparations.

“The public needs to know we have a well-oiled machine in emergency management with volunteers and government employees that have their back.”

During a later meeting held at the Kinston-Lenoir County Library, numerous local officials spoke to the public for what would be the final time before Florence makes landfall. Among the leaders was Kinston Mayor Don Hardy, who stressed precaution.

“The most important thing is safety,” Hardy said. “We are probably more prepared than we’ve been in the past and I want everyone to adhere to the authorities. Whatever information you need, we’re going to give it to you and we want you to take heed and not put yourself in a (rough) situation.”

During Tuesday's meeting at City Hall, Kinston City Manager Tony Sears said wind gusts of up to 90 miles per hour were forecast. While Florence’s new trajectory brings the projections down to about 60 mph, Sears said the City of Kinston is proceeding with the same level of caution.

“That doesn’t change the city’s preparation,” Sears said. “We’re still expecting high winds (and) we think that will also affect the utilities here in the City of Kinston. We can’t get out when (winds) get above 40 to 45 miles per hour (but) if you have issues, you can call us at 252-939-3282.”

Kinston Sheriff Ronnie Ingram said besides safety precautions, residents should try to assist each other.

“Once you get your stuff prepared, if you’ve got neighbors, the elderly, or people who need help — if you cannot help them, call someone and make arrangements so they’re prepared also,” Ingram said. “What we’re trying to do is get through this with the least amount of damage and harm as possible.”

There will be shelters set up at Lenoir Community College, North Lenoir and South Lenoir, starting at 7 a.m. Lenoir County Department of Social Services Director Jeff Harrison said there’s a capacity of about 300 to 400 at the high schools and 700 at LCC.

“I have 16 teams ready to roll at a moment’s notice,” Harrison said. “What we’re asking for is for some form of identification (so) we can register you in the shelter when you arrive. If you should leave during the storm, we’re going to ask you your destination in case something happens. We also ask that if you have young children bring some activities that will help calm their nerves — coloring books, cards. You may bring iPads but I can’t promise there will be a good connectivity. If you have small infants still using diapers and formula, bring those items with you.

“We will try to make you comfortable and welcome as possible, but know it is a sheltering situation. We ask for your full cooperation as we try to get you into the shelter.”

Angie Greene, director of Lenoir County Transit, said the services will be free for those who need a ride to LCC, North Lenoir or South Lenoir.

“We’ll be assisting Emergency Services with evacuations, so those who can’t drive or don’t have transportation can contact us to pick them up (and drive them) to one of the three shelters,” Greene said. “We’re only doing evacuations (Thursday) starting at 7 until the weather permits.”

Lenoir County Chairman Craig Hill said no matter what, the area must continue to stay strong.

“Regardless of the turn, we must remain diligent and make sure we continue to prepare,” Hill said. “It requires all the resources of government to respond to something like this and it requires all the resources of our citizens and volunteers. I can assure you this community and region will rebound and become prosperous moving forward.”

To contact the Lenoir County EOC for needs, the number is 252-559-1911. The SPCA can be reached at 252-520-0003 and the number to the Lenoir County Transit is 252-523-4171 Option 1.

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