News: CJ Exclusives

N.C. prepares for Florence with unprecedented state evacuation order

Debris from Hurricane Matthew (Wiki Commons photograph)
Debris from Hurricane Matthew (Wiki Commons photograph)

With Hurricane Florence fast approaching — and parts of the state still recovering from Hurricane Matthew — the governor, for the first time, issued an evacuation order.

Local evacuation orders as of Tuesday afternoon were in effect for 12 counties, and 14 counties have issued a state of emergency. Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statewide state of emergency Sept. 7, which triggers anti-price gouging laws and loosens certain regulations on trucks.

“It is an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane,” Cooper said during an state emergency-management briefing. “That is why I’m ordering a mandatory state evacuation for our barrier islands, and I’m directing the people of North Carolina to obey local evacuation orders that have already been issued and will be issued along our coast.”

The state evacuation order is unprecedented. In North Carolina, evacuation orders typically are issued at the local level. The state isn’t taking any chances.

“This is the first one of its kind,” Cooper said. “We believe most of the local governments on the barrier islands will issue evacuation orders, but we think this storm is so fierce that we need the added incentive of the state evacuation order to make sure people on the barrier islands leave.”

“Everyone needs to heed evacuation orders that have been issued by their local jurisdictions and by the governor,” Michael Sprayberry, the N.C. Emergency Management director said. “I would say do it today, especially those with medical support needs. Do it today.”

Requests for federal aid have already been made.

“Last night, President Trump approved our request to declare a state of emergency for North Carolina,” Rep. George Holding, R-2nd District, said in a prepared statement. “I commend the president for his swift action as this will expedite and strengthen relief efforts.”

The declaration is intended to speed federal aid to the state and help with recovery. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are stationed in the state to assist with rescue efforts.

Hurricane Florence threatens to wreak havoc on the eastern part of the state. Forecasts show the storm potentially stalling over areas and dumping rain for days. As with 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, flooding is a major concern.

Bobby Outten, the county manager for Dare County, said residents are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.

“Every storm has something that you do differently like improving communications,” Outten said. “This storm is coming our way and we don’t yet know what the effects are but it’s a big storm and a strong storm.”

Dare county has already issued evacuation orders in anticipation of Hurricane Florence hitting the coast hard.

“In this particular case we went ahead and evacuated where we didn’t do that with Matthew up here,” Outten said.

Hurricane Matthew surprised people when, rather than heading into the ocean, traveled up the coast farther than anticipated.

“As a result on Hatteras Island, on the southern end we got flooding in the villages that we probably wouldn’t have gotten had it made the turn as they predicted,” Outten said.

Outten said Hurricane Matthew dumped a huge amount of rain over Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills that created hazardous conditions and flooding. Typically that amount of flooding comes from storm surges or from ocean surges.

“It came solely from the rain volume that we had in that short period of time so we had some problems there because of the track not being right that we didn’t anticipate and couldn’t have anticipated,” Outten said.

Hurricane Florence is a bit different. Meteorologists are telling people to prepare for major rainfall and strong winds. Outten said the county has put the emergency operation plan into effect, which includes stocking up on generators and gas.

“We are planning for all of that stuff this time, so I think we have done the things we need to do to be ready in Dare county,” Outten said. “We are aware that the track doesn’t always hold true.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has also stocked up on supplies in anticipation of Hurricane Florence. More than 2,000 NCDOT employees are equipped with 284 trucks, 1,086 chain saws, 147 front loaders, 219 motor graders, and 202 backhoes to tackle the storm and subsequent clean up.

“Preparation is our best defense,” Cooper said. “If you haven’t already, the time to prepare is now.”